This brief summary is intended to acquaint you with the major federal labor laws and not to offer a detailed exposition. For authoritative information and references to fuller descriptions on these laws, you should consult the statutes and regulations themselves.
There may also be relevant state-based laws. For more information, please visit your state department of agriculture.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has several major federal statutes that can apply to farm businesses, including:
DOL’s Wage and Hour Division administers three laws that determine the wages of workers engaged in agricultural employment. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires payment of no less than the federal minimum wage for each hour worked and time and one-half the employee's regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in the workweek. The federal minimum wage for covered, nonexempt employees is $5.85 per hour effective July 24, 2007; $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008; and $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Certain small farms are exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA. Workers engaged in agricultural employment (as defined by the FLSA) are exempt from the overtime requirements.
Most migrant and seasonal workers engaged in agriculture are protected by the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA). This law requires, among other things, that workers receive the rate that was disclosed upon recruitment or hire. This is sometimes called the "promised wage." The disclosed wage cannot be less than the higher of the applicable state minimum wage or the federal minimum wage established in the FLSA. The law also restricts the deductions that may be legally made from worker's wages.
The H-2A provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) authorize the lawful entry into the United States of temporary, non-immigrant workers (H-2A workers) to perform agricultural labor or agricultural services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Foreign workers and U.S. workers performing the same work at the same location for the same employer as foreign workers must be paid the highest of (a) the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), (b) the "prevailing rate" for a given crop/area or (c) the federal or state minimum wage. The law also contains requirements regarding employer-provided meals and transportation of workers and restricts the deductions that may be legally made from workers' wages.
Additional helpful resources:
- Cultivating Compliance: An Agricultural Guide to Federal Labor Law (English) (Spanish) (PDF)
- Video: Cultivating Compliance - An Agricultural Guide to Federal Labor Law
- Cultivating Compliance: Your Next Steps as a Registered Farm Labor Contractor (FLC) (English) (Spanish) (PDF)
- Protecting Farm Workers - A Healthy Start, Room to Grow
- Protecting Workers and Preventing Unfair Competition
- Cultivating Compliance
FarmAnswers.org, a production of the University of Minnesota, and funded by USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant program (BFRDP) as the national BFRDP clearinghouse, makes available several key labor guides.
The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Safety and health conditions in most private industries are regulated by OSHA or OSHA-approved state programs, which also cover public sector employers. Employers covered by the OSH Act must comply with the regulations and the safety and health standards promulgated by OSHA. Employers also have a general duty under the OSH Act to provide their employees with work and a workplace free from recognized, serious hazards. OSHA enforces the Act through workplace inspections and investigations. Compliance assistance and other cooperative programs are also available.
OSHA offers a Youth in Agriculture eTool that describes common agricultural hazards and offers potential safety solutions that both employers and young workers can utilize to prevent accidents and avoid injury on the job. It includes information from OSHA regarding the following topics: tractors, other machinery, struck-by, falls, electrocution, confined space, chemicals, worker/picker, and organic dust.