Workers are protected by a number of state and federal laws. As an employer, it is important to understand and comply with these laws. The agricultural industry is exempt from some laws and others include exceptions. The complicated nature of this regulation makes it especially important for farmers to understand the laws governing their labor relations. You should consult an agricultural law attorney with any questions about farm employment.
Here is a short list of some federal laws that affect agricultural employment and a description of how they might affect you:
- Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The MSPA establishes work and wage regulations for agricultural workers and requires the registration of contractors supplying seasonal or migrant workers. The MSPA only covers temporary agriculture workers. It requires employers to provide information on wages, conditions, housing, and other vital concerns. It details the records that must be kept by the employer and the contractor. It also creates “joint employment”, which gives the employer and contractor joint say in work location, conditions, and hiring or firing decisions while making both parties liable for MSPA violations. The MSPA is enforced by the Department of Labor but private parties can file suit to enforce MSPA regulations.
- Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA regulates child labor, overtime, minimum wage, and other conditions, and covers the employees of any business involved in interstate commerce or the production of goods for interstate commerce. Some provisions do not apply to agricultural employers. Farmers that use less than 500 man-days of agricultural labor – a day in which an employee performs at least one hour of agricultural work – do not have to meet the minimum wage requirement. Agricultural employers do not have to provide overtime and can employ children. The FLSA does not override any stricter state laws.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA protects workers from hazardous or unsafe working conditions. Farms operated by families or with less than ten employees are exempt from OSHA regulation.
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. FIFRA regulates the manufacture, labeling, and usage of pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces this act. It requires workers who apply restricted pesticides to be certified. It also sets out rules for safer usage and application of pesticides and prevents employers from forcing employees to unsafely use pesticides. Safety requirements and licensing are overseen by state agencies where they have received EPA approval.
- Immigration Reform and Control Act. The IRCA of 1986 set penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens. It also created a responsibility for employers to confirm that all of their employees are authorized to work in the United States. IRCA also amended the older Immigration and Nationality Act to allow employers to import temporary agricultural workers.
- National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA grants the right to organize to workers. The act specifically excludes agricultural workers from the right to form unions or collectively bargain. Some state laws do grant this right.
Employers must also abide by a number of other laws, including state laws on workers’ compensation and discrimination. Federal laws such as equal opportunity statutes and the Family and Medical Leave Act apply to larger employers. All employers must comply with federal tax law.
The number and variety of federal and state laws that apply to employers can be bewildering. In order to ensure your farm’s legal compliance, you should make an effort to understand the basics of these laws and consult an attorney with experience in agricultural law to review your operations and make sure you’re in the clear.