Agricultural Workers Under the FLSA

Farms are now in full swing all across Georgia, the South, and most of the rest of the country, employing thousands, if not millions, of farm workers.

Most seasonal agricultural workers are covered under two separate federal labor laws – the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. This post will cover the former.

The two laws always need to be read together, as well as in conjunction with state laws, by a qualified employment lawyer, to determine the rights of any agricultural workers in this very complex area.

Most agricultural workers are covered under the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the FLSA because, simply, most of them are produce goods for interstate commerce. However, there are numerous exceptions to this basic proposition, and exceptions to the exceptions.

Workers employed in “agriculture”, as defined in the Act, are exempt from the FLSA overtime pay provisions. Under the FLSA, agriculture is defined as “farming and all its branches, raising livestock or poultry, and any practices performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations.”

An agricultural employee has been defined through decisions and regulations as a person employed in farming, by a farmer, or on a farm, although packers and processors of produce that work with multiple farms’ crops are not covered by this exemption.

“Agriculture” under the Act doesn’t include work performed on a farm, such as cooking, which is not incidental to, or in conjunction with, the actual farming operation. It also doesn’t include operations performed off a farm if the employees are employed by someone else, like an agency.

There is a “small farm” exemption as well, exempting farms that employed less than 500 man- hours the year before from paying minimum wage.

Immediate family members of the agricultural employer, certain hand harvesters that are paid on a piece rate, and employees primarily engaged in range production of livestock are not covered by the minimum wage requirements.

Other exemptions the keep FLSA benefits from agricultural workers include, among others, people engaged on the range herding livestock, and anyone of any age paid in piece work. One problem that arises in keeping track of the hours that agricultural workers are employed is when the workers are hired through an agency. In that case, both the farm and the agency need to keep employee records.

This is a very complex area of employment law. If you have any questions about it, you should contact an employment lawyer.