Young Workers in Agriculture

Employers who hire young workers for agricultural jobs need to know the state regulations covering minors (workers under age 18). The following information answers many questions employers and young workers have about agricultural employment.

Topics covered include:

  • Age requirements
  • Work hours
  • Prohibited jobs
  • Meals and rest breaks
  • Minimum wage
  • Variances to regulations
  • Penalties
  • Requirements for employing minors


How old do kids have to be to work?

The minimum age for minor workers is 14. The one exception is: children age 12 and 13 are allowed to work only during non-school weeks hand-harvesting berries, bulbs, cucumbers and spinach.

What jobs are prohibited because they’re too hazardous?

All minors are prohibited from performing the following work:

  • Handling, mixing, loading or applying dangerous pesticides.
  • Transporting, transferring or applying anhydrous ammonia.
  • Harvesting crops before the pre-harvest interval expires or within 14 days of applying chemicals, if no pre-harvest interval exists. (The pre-harvest interval is the amount of time that must pass between applying the last pesticide and harvesting the crop.)
  • Work involving slaughtering and meat processing.
  • Operating power saws, power-driven woodworking and metal-forming machines, and punching or shearing machines.
  • Handling or using blasting agents, such as dynamite or blasting caps.
  • Work involving wrecking, roofing, demolition and excavation.

Minors under age 16 are prohibited from performing certain hazardous work, including:

  • Operating or riding on a tractor.
  • Driving a bus, truck or automobile that carries passengers.
  • Working from a ladder or scaffold at a height over 20 feet.
  • Working in a farmyard, pen or stall occupied by a bull, boar or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes.
  • Working inside a fruit or grain storage area designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere, or working in a manure pit.
  • Operating or helping to operate machines such as corn pickers, hay balers and mowers and grain combines.
  • Performing manufacturing, meatpacking or food-processing work.
  • Working in transportation, warehouse and storage or construction.
  • Working in or around engine or boiler rooms.

What about meal and rest breaks?

Workers are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes if they work more than 5 hours in a day. They also are entitled to at least a 10-minute paid rest break for each 4 hours worked.

What is the minimum wage for minor workers?

The minimum wage for 16- and 17-year-old workers is the same as for adults. Minors under 16 may be paid 85 percent of the state minimum wage.

In agriculture, are there exemptions to the minimum wage?

Yes, but only if all three of the following requirements are met:

  1. The workers must be employed as hand-harvest laborers who are paid piece rate; and
  2. They commute daily from their permanent residence to the farm; and
  3. They were employed in agriculture less than 13 weeks during the preceding calendar year.

What hours are minors permitted to work?

Hours and schedules minors are permitted to work in agricultural jobs

  Hours per day Hours per week Days per week Begin Quit
12-13 year-olds
Non-School weeks 8 hours 40 hours 6 days 5 a.m. 9 p.m.
Note: 12- and 13-year olds are allowed to work only during non-school weeks hand-harvesting berries, bulbs, cucumbers, and spinach.
14-15 year-olds
School weeks 3 hours 21 hours 6 days* 7 a.m. (6 a.m. in animal agriculture and irrigation) 8 p.m.
Non-school weeks 8 hours 40 hours 6 days* 5 a.m. 9 p.m.
*Exception: 14- and 15-year olds are allowed to work 7 days a week in dairy, livestock, hay harvest and irrigation during school and non-school weeks.
16-17 year- olds
School weeks 4 hours 28 hours 6 days* 5 a.m. 10 p.m. (No later than 9 p.m. on more than 2 consecutive nights before a school day.)
Non-school weeks 10 hours 50 hours (60 hours per week in mechanical harvest of peas, wheat and hay) 6 days* 5 a.m. 10 p.m.
*Exception: 16- and 17-year olds are allowed to work 7 days a week in dairy, livestock, hay harvest and irrigation during school and non-school weeks.


Can employers seek variances to the minor work rules?

Variances may be allowed for “good cause.” For example, to meet crop or harvest requirements or for weather emergencies, when the employer can show that the variance will not harm the minor’s health, safety, welfare and school performance.

Note: The child labor regulations do not apply to immediate family members of farm owners.

Are there penalties for violating minor work rules?

Yes! The Department of Labor & Industries can fine employers who do not follow these requirements.

Steps an employer must follow to hire a minor worker.

  1. Obtain a minor work permit endorsement within 3 days of hiring a minor. Contact the Department of Licensing or any L&I office. You must post your Master Business License with current minor work permit endorsement.
  2. Obtain parent and school authorization. Before employing a minor, you must have the minor’s legal guardian and school (during the school year) complete the Parent/School Authorization form, which you can get from L&I. Keep the completed form on file.
  3. Obtain proof of minor’s age. You must keep proof of age on file. Examples include a copy of a birth certificate or driver’s license, or a witnessed statement of the parent or legal guardian.
  4. Keep employment records for 3 years after you hire a minor. You must keep information such as employee name, address, occupation, dates of employment, rate(s) of pay, amount paid each pay period and the hours worked. These records must be available to the employee on request at any reasonable time.

For More Information

Contact your local Department of Labor & Industries (L&I)
office or visit the L&I Web site at

Other formats for persons with disabilities are available on request. Call 1-800-547-8367. TDD users, call 360-902-5797. L&I is an equal opportunity employer.

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Publication #: PUBLICATION F700-096-909 [07-2010]

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