Summer is a good time for a youth labor legal checkup

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Monday, June 14th, 2021
Young girl driving a lawn mower

Written by Peggy Kirk Hall and Jeffrey K. Lewis

School is out and youth employment is in.  As more and more youth turn to the job market during summer break, now is a good time to review the laws that apply to youth working in agricultural situations.  Here’s a quick refresher that can help you comply with youth employment laws.  For additional details and explanation, refer to our law bulletin on “Youth Labor on the Farm: Laws Farmers Need to Know.

  1. The agricultural “exemption” applies only to your children and grandchildren.  Many farmers know that there are unique exemptions for agricultural employers when it comes to employment law.  Youth employment is no different.  In Ohio, youth employment laws do not apply to children working on a farm owned or operated by their parent, grandparent, or legal guardian.   This means that your children, grandchildren, and legal guardianship children working on farms you own or operate may perform tasks that are considered “hazardous,” receive a wage less than federal and state minimum wage and work longer hours.  Keep in mind that this exemption does not apply to youth who are your cousins, nieces, nephews, and other extended family members—those family members are subject to youth employment laws. 
  2. Lawn mowing and similar tasks are special.  Ohio Revised Code § 4109.06(9) explicitly states that youth engaged in “lawn mowing, snow shoveling, and other related employment” are not subject to Ohio’s youth employment laws.  This means that farms may hire youth to mow the grass and do similar tasks around the farm without having to comply with labor laws regarding working hours and wage requirements. 
  3. Treat youth like adults for verification, workers compensation and taxes.  The law doesn’t deal with youth uniquely when it comes to Form I-9 employment verification, workers compensation coverage, and withholding taxes.  A farm employer must complete these same requirements for youth employees.
  4. Don’t start them too young.  Minimum working age is a tricky area of law.  Federal law allows youth under the age of 14 to be employed as long as certain requirements are met, such as having written parental consent and limiting work hours and tasks.  States may preempt federal law by being more restrictive.  Ohio law, however, doesn’t address youth under 14 and doesn’t explicitly permit or prohibit them from being employed.  Be aware that the Ohio Department of Commerce has stated that it interprets this silence in Ohio law as a prohibition against employing youth under 14.  This creates a compliance risk for employers who want to employ a youth under 14, as Ohio may deem that a violation of state law.  Before hiring youth under 14 for jobs other than the specifically exempted tasks of lawn mowing, snow shoveling or similar work, consult with your attorney.
  5. Keep younger youth away from “hazardous” jobs.  State and federal laws are clear on this point:  youth under the age of 16 cannot perform “hazardous” tasks.  This restriction includes operating heavy machinery with moving parts, working inside silos and manure pits, handling toxic chemicals, working with breeding livestock, sows and newborn calves, and other dangerous tasks.  An exception is that 14- and 15-year-olds may operate tractors and other machinery if they have a valid 4-H or vocational agricultural certificate of completion for safe tractor and machine operation.  See the complete list of prohibited hazardous tasks in our law bulletin on “Youth Labor on the Farm: Laws Farmers Need to Know.” 
  6. Don’t make them work too early or too late.  During the summer months, youth between 16 and 18 years of age may work as early or as late as needed.  Youth under the age of 16, however, may not start work before 7 am or work past 9 pm.
  7. Give the kids a break.  If youth are working longer hours, you must give them a break from working.  All youth under the age of 18 must receive a 30-minute break for every 5 hours worked.
  8. Know how much to pay.  If a farm grossed less than $323,000 in 2020, the employer must pay employees the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. If the farm grossed more than $323,000 then the employer must pay employees the Ohio minimum wage of $80.  Two exemptions allow a farmer to pay less than both the federal and state minimum wage to youth.  If the farm is owned or operated by a youth’s parent, grandparent, or legal guardian the minimum wage requirements do not apply.  Second, if the farm is a “small farm,” which means that the farm did not use more than 500 man-days of agricultural labor during any calendar quarter of the preceding year, then the farm is not required to pay the federal or state minimum wage to any youth employed on the farm.  
  9. Sign a wage agreement.  This requirement catches many employers off guard.  Ohio law requires that before any youth can begin work, the youth and the employer must sign a wage agreement.  Be sure to keep this signed agreement with the youth’s employment records.  A sample wage agreement from the Ohio Department of Commerce is available here
  10. Do your recordkeeping.  Just as you would with other employees, maintain a file on each of your youth employees.    The file should include the youth’s full name, permanent address, and date of birth, the youth’s wage agreement, and any 4-H or vocational agricultural certificates.  Also keep time slips, payroll records, parental consent forms, and name and contact information of youth’s parent or legal guardian.

Summer is a hot time to employ our youth and school them about farming and farm-related businesses.  But don’t let legal compliance ruin your summer fun.  If you have youth working on the farm and have concerns about any of the items in this quick overview, be sure to talk with your attorney.  Doing so will ensure that the summer job is a good experience for both you and your young employees.