Child Labor Law
This article focuses on child labor laws applicable to farmers and provides
general answers to the following questions:
(1) What, if any, age restrictions affect the employment
of my own child in agriculture?
(2) What are the age restrictions for employing children
other than my own, and does it depend on whether the activities are hazardous?
(3) What are the penalties for violations of child labor
The discussion is intended to provide general answers for educational purposes.
For more comprehensive information, visit the actual statutes and regulations
(links to unofficial versions of relevant statutes and regulations are provided).
You may find it helpful to discuss your special circumstances with your legal
What, if any, age restrictions or other limitations affect the employment
of a farmer’s own child in agriculture?
Members of a farmer’s immediate family who live with the farmer and are employed
by the farmer in agriculture are exempt from nearly all federal and state child
labor regulations. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, at 29
U.S.C. § 203(l), excludes from the definition of oppressive child labor
“a parent or a person standing in place of a parent employing his own child or
a child in his custody under the age of sixteen years in an occupation other than
manufacturing or mining.” Accordingly, a parent or guardian may employ his own
child or a child in his custody under the age of 16 years in any occupation other
than the following: (1) manufacturing; (2) mining; (3) an occupation found by
the Secretary to be particularly hazardous for children between the ages of 16
and 18 years. 29
C.F.R. § 570.126. Likewise, under the Illinois child labor law, members of
a farmer’s own family who live with the farmer are not prohibited from working
in agriculture. 820
Ill. Comp. Stat. 205/1. While the child labor laws allow for such employment,
farmers must also abide by other laws that may limit employment of their children,
such as those laws enforcing school attendance. If child labor law issues are
of special interest to the reader and additional information is needed, the reader
should discuss the specific situation further with his or her attorney.
What are the age restrictions for employing children (other than the farmer’s
own), and does it depend on whether the activities are hazardous?
Minors 16 years of age or older can be employed in any agricultural occupation
at any time. Minors under 16 years of age cannot be employed during the normal
school hours of the school district where the child is living. If the child is
under 14, parental consent usually is required for employment. If the child is
under 12, he cannot work on a farm where any of the employees are required to
be paid minimum wage (these are large farms, typically those employing six or
more persons). Generally, a non-family minor under age ten cannot work in agriculture
at any time. See 29.
U.S.C. § 213(c)(1). Except for family members and except as otherwise provided
below, minors under 16 may not be employed at any time in an agricultural occupation
declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor (see below). However, persons ages
14 or older who have completed certain training programs can obtain approval for
employment in some occupations declared hazardous by the Secretary.
The Secretary of Labor has declared a number of activities as hazardous agricultural
occupations for minors under16 years of age. See 29
C.F.R. § 570.71. Following are a few activities listed in the regulation.
For a complete list, please refer directly to the regulation.
- Operating a tractor of over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting
an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor.
- Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting,
feeding, or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the
operation) any of the following machines:
- grain combine;
- hay mower;
- hay baler;
- feed grinder;
- auger conveyor;
- power post-hole digger.
- Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by a potentially dangerous
animal such as a bull, boar, etc.
- Working from a ladder or scaffold at a height of over 20 feet.
- Driving a bus, truck, or automobile when transporting passengers, or riding
on a tractor as a passenger or helper.
- Handling or applying agricultural chemicals classified under the Federal Insecticide,
Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act as Category I of toxicity.
- Handling or using a blasting agent; or
- Transporting, transferring, or applying anhydrous ammonia.
Minors age 14 or older who have completed the applicable training programs
can obtain approval for employment in certain occupations listed above. Such special
training programs include the 4-H tractor operation program, or a tractor and
machine operation program. Also, vocational agriculture student learners can obtain
approval for employment in a wider variety of occupations listed above. See generally
C.F.R. § 570.72.
Minors under 16 years of age cannot be employed even in nonhazardous agricultural
occupations during the normal school hours of the school district where the child
is living. Therefore, the employment of minors under 16 is normally lawful only
before or after school hours, on weekends, on school holidays, and during summer
Child labor laws are rather complex. If child labor law issues are of special
interest to the reader and additional information is needed, the reader should
discuss the specific situation further with his or her attorney.
What are the penalties for violations of child labor laws?
For each violation of the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards
Act, employers may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1000. Willful violation
and repeated offenses can result in fines up to $10,000, up to six months imprisonment,