More than $48,000 in penalties assessed after investigators find 7 children working in fields
Wage & Hour Press Release
PHOENIX — The U.S. Department of Labor has fined Robert Nickerson Farms of Wellton, Ariz., $48,000 in civil money penalties after finding seven children between the ages of nine and 13 working during this past summer’s okra harvest.
An investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division determined that Robert Nickerson Farms employed six children – three 13-year-olds, one 12-year-old, one 11-year-old and one 9-year-old – to weed okra fields between June and August of this year. Another 11-year-old was hired to set gopher traps and dispose of the dead animals. Investigators confirmed that the children over 11 years of age were all employed without written parental consent, which is required by the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provisions. Children under the age of 12 cannot legally be employed by Robert Nickerson Farms.
“Having children under the legal age of employment work in agriculture, and without written parental consent, is not only wrong but against the law,” said George Friday Jr., regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division’s Western Regional Office. “We must do everything that we can to protect the most vulnerable workers among us.”
Individuals under the age of 12 may be employed in agricultural jobs with parental consent, but only on very small farms that are not subject to the federal minimum wage requirements. The Robert Nickerson farm is categorized as a large farm, employing more than 80 workers. Twelve- and 13-year-olds may be employed in agricultural settings if they are working on the same farm as a parent or with a parent’s written consent. Generally, no hired farmworker under the age of 16 may be employed during school hours or perform hazardous work. Employers must maintain records of hours worked, pay and dates of birth for all individuals under age 19. Most farm workers, even the youngest, must receive at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for every hour worked.
The Labor Department recently initiated a new, tougher child labor civil money penalty structure to address employers who employ individuals who are too young to work. Employers who illegally employ individuals ages 12 or 13 will face a penalty of at least $6,000 per violation. If a worker is under 12 years of age and illegally employed, the penalty will be at least $8,000. The penalty assessed Robert Nickerson Farms is part of this penalty structure. For more information about the FLSA, youth employment, the jobs younger workers may perform and the hours they may work, call the division’s Phoenix office at 602-514-7100 or its national toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available on the Internet at www.dol.gov/whd.