Most seasonal agricultural workers in Georgia and the rest of the country are covered under two separate labor laws-the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA).
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.
Even though agricultural workers are covered under the FLSA, the MSPA, which was passed in 1983, is considered to be the primary federal labor law covering migrant workers. Like the FLSA, this law is administered by the Wage and Hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The MSPA only covers workers who are engaged in seasonal or temporary agricultural employment, making a distinction between workers who are away from home overnight and those who live near the work site.
The law mandates that these workers have to be given information about wages, hours, workers’ compensation, working conditions, and housing at the time the worker is being recruited. Payroll records have to be kept by both the contractor and farmer, and a written earnings statement must be given to each employee.
The teeth of the MSPA is a private right of action in federal court for any aggrieved worker, allowing recovery regardless of the amount in controversy, citizenship of the parties, or whether or not the parties have exhausted their administrative remedies.
This right of action is taken against the labor contractors, and does not necessarily affect the employer farms themselves. However, under the right circumstances, the law will create a “joint employment” situation which will allow a worker to file suit against the farmer, as well as the contractor.
The MSPA requires labor contractors to register with the DOL prior to contracting any farm labor. The contractor also has to provide the DOL with proof of vehicle safety and insurance, if they are transported, and with decent housing, if housing is provided.
If you know of any migrant workers who are employed by any contractor who is not following these rules, do them a favor and contact an employment law attorney.