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Employment of Minors in Virginia Agriculture

Farm Business Management Update, June 1999

By Bill Whittle of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

Summer is the time of year when many minors (children under the age of 18) enter the work force and find employment on farms. Because farming deals with so many potentially hazardous jobs, regulations have been developed that govern what a minor can and cannot do on a farm and under what circumstances the restrictions are waived. Hazardous jobs that restrict what minors can and cannot do but under specific circumstances exemption can be obtained are listed in Table 1. Hazardous jobs that have no exemptions are listed in Table 2.

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry and the U. S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division covers the regulations involving the employment of minors in Agriculture. Virginia's regulations became more stringent than the Federal standards in July 1994; therefore, the Commonwealth's requirements take precedent. These regulations are designed to protect minors and keep them from working in hazardous jobs on the farm.

The statutes exempt children of any age from the hazardous occupation regulation if they are employed on a farm owned or operated by their parents or guardian. This exemption does not include the niece or nephew visiting the farm even if they have the permission of the parents to work in the hazardous occupations. Also, as the employer you cannot allow a minor to do hazardous activities for "fun," i.e. no pay.

The regulations for minors employed in agriculture specifically address the following age categories: 13 and under, 14 and 15, over 16. Employment certificates issued by the school system are not required for agriculture work. (Employment certificates issued by the local school division superintendent are required for any minor employed in non-agricultural work.)

Minors 16 and over - Age 16 is the Basic Minimum Age of Employment according to Virginia statutes. No specific agricultural hazardous job restrictions for minors over age 16 exist. However, a substantial list of restricted hazardous activities for any type employment for minors under the age of 18 do exist. These activities include excavation, demolition, roofing, and driving a commercial vehicle of more than two axles.

Minors under age 13 can be employed in agriculture if they are not employed in hazardous occupations. No exceptions or exemptions for hazardous jobs are granted for children under 13.

Minors 14 and 15 can be employed in agriculture if they are not employed in hazardous occupations. A minor, age 14 and 15, can perform certain jobs that are considered hazardous provided they participate in an approved program that qualifies them for an exemption.

The Code of Virginia provides two ways for minors age 14 and 15 to become eligible to work in certain hazardous activities. The minor must fall in one or the other category if he is to be allowed to do the hazardous work.

Exemptions for Hazardous Occupations for Minors age 14 and 15

  1. A minor may be allowed to work in certain hazardous occupations if enrolled in an approved vocational education program in agriculture and is employed under a written agreement which provides that the hazardous work is incidental to his training, intermittent, for short periods of time, and is under close supervision of a qualified person. Safety instruction must be provided by the school and must relate to on the job training by the employer. A schedule of organized and progressive work processes must be developed. The written agreement must be signed by the student-learner, employer, and the educational authority and must be kept on file by the educational authority and the employer.

  2. A minor may take the state approved 20-hour Tractor Operator Training Course for 14 and 15 year olds offered by 4-H and/or Vo Ag. Successful completion only enables the minor to operate a tractor of greater than 20 PTO horsepower, but not connect or disconnect equipment. To be able to operate hazardous equipment (which includes connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from a tractor) the minor must take an additional 10-hour training course. Upon completion of the approved course, the minor will receive a certificate and wallet card as proof. Also, a copy of the certificate will be kept on file in the Extension Office in the county in which the minor resides.

Record keeping is an absolute necessity for the farmer-employer if he employs minors under 16. The following records must be kept for three years if a farmer employs a minor on days school is in session or on any day the minor is employed in a hazardous occupation:

  1. Full name
  2. Address of minor while employed; if different from permanent address, both must be included
  3. Date of birth-copy of birth certificate, baptismal record, or other approved documentary proof of age

Though not required it would be prudent to maintain for each minor the following information:

A complete description of the Virginia regulations can be found in the bulletin, "Virginia Regulation Governing the Employment of Minors on Farms, in Gardens and in Orchards," Promulgated by the Commissioner, Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Effective Date, July 13, 1994.

Table 1: Hazardous Occupations

  1. Operating a tractor of over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting and implement or any of its parts to or from a tractor
  2. 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:
    1. Corn picker, cotton picker, grain combine, hay mower, forage Harvester, hay baler, potato digger or mobile pea viner;
    2. Feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, augar conveyor, or the unloading mechanism of a non-gravity type self-unloading wagon or trailer;
    3. Power post-hole digger, power post-hole driver, or non-walking rotary tiller.
  3. Operating or assisting to operate
    1. Earth-moving equipment
    2. Fork lift
    3. Potato combine
    4. Chain saw
  4. Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by
    1. Bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes;
    2. Sow with suckling pigs or a cow with newborn (umbilical cord present).
  5. Working from a ladder at a height of over 20 feet for purposes such as pruning trees, picking fruit, etc.

Table 2: Hazardous Occupations -- No Exemption

  1. Driving a bus, truck, or automobile when transporting passengers, or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper.
  2. Working inside
    1. Fruit, forage, or grain storage designed to retain an oxygen deficient or toxic atmosphere;
    2. Upright silo within two weeks after silage has been added or when a top unloading device is in operating position;
    3. Manure pit;
    4. Horizontal silo while operating a tractor for packing purposes.
  3. Handling or applying Category 1 ("Poison"-Skull and Crossbones on label) and Category 2 ("Warning" on label) chemicals. This restriction includes cleaning equipment and disposing of empty containers.
  4. Handling or using blasting agents
  5. Transporting, transferring, or applying anhydrous ammonia.

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