Farm Employment Law Basics

Learn eleven things every farmer and rancher needs to know about farm employment law.

Farm employment law affects nearly every farmer, whether they rely on family help, volunteers, H-2A, or traditional employees. Even if a producer has never issued a job announcement or interviewed and hired, if folks are doing work on the farm, we have employment law concerns.

But how does a farmer know what laws affect them and what issues need attention? Farm Commons has created this handy list of eleven truths about farm employment law to help producers follow up on the information they need. No matter what state a farmer lives in or their operation type, these ten statements are true for everyone!

Reading this list, are some of these truths surprising? Do these truths prompt questions or inspire more thought? If so, don’t worry. Farm Commons has you covered. We offer the support you need to understand your individual situation. Read through these truths and look below for how to get more information.

  1. The minimum wage required by farm businesses can change depending on the type of labor farmers assign to farm workers.

  2. If farm workers perform non-farm tasks, overtime is required for all hours worked over 40 in the week.

  3. Nearly all farms are required to provide specific types of meal and rest breaks for their employees.

  4. Nearly all farms with workers have payroll and income tax obligations.

  5. Workers’ compensation protects the farm business owner from lawsuits while also being required in many states.

  6. When we focus exclusively on a candidate’s ability to do the job, it’s much easier to avoid illegal discrimination (especially the unintentional kind).

  7. If a farm is classifying workers as independent contractors, those contractors should set their own schedule, bring their own tools, and use their own judgment to do the job.

  8. For-profit farms and businesses cannot legally have a volunteer workforce

  9. If a farm has interns or apprentices, the interns/apprentices must be provided with all the usual obligations of farm employment law (including minimum wage), unless specific criteria are met.

  10. Providing housing or meals as a form of wages for farm work is often (but not always) allowed under state laws.

  11. The H2-A visa provides a workforce solution for many farms, but it’s also a significant source of human labor trafficking. Farmers can manage the risk of human trafficking by doing their own recruitment.

Moving Forward

Some farmers will read these facts and say, “Yup, I already pay at least the minimum wage, so I don’t have to worry about whether it’s owed.” Or, “My contractors don’t bring their own tools… should I be worried?” If your inner voice is raising questions about these statements, take it as a sign that additional research is in order.

Get the answers you need in our Selected Essentials in Farm Employment Law guides for every state, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The Selected Essentials guides will also direct you to further detailed information as necessary to get you on the path to resilience.

Whether farmers are just starting out with a fresh operation, are optimizing long-standing systems, or are doing a resiliency-building overhaul, this resource will help identify where issues might be lurking. Get the state-specific information necessary to move forward through our Selected Essentials series.



This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2021-700027