Under federal law, a farm that uses fewer than 500 man-days in each calendar quarter of the previous year is not required to pay at least the federal minimum wage during the current year. Many states have adopted this threshold into their own minimum wage calculations, either specifically in their own statutes or because the state doesn’t have a minimum wage rule for agricultural labor. (What is the rule in your state? Check our Selected Essentials in Farm Employment Law resource for guidance.) Either way, farmers often have more questions.

What is a man-day? One man-day is when one worker performs at least one hour of labor. This is easiest to explain by example. Let’s say a farm had one person perform one hour of labor yesterday. Yesterday, the farm had one man-day. Now, let’s say that same farm has two people working for one hour each today. Today, the farm has two man-days. Tomorrow the farm plans to have two people work for four hours each. Tomorrow the farm will still have two man-days. This is because as long as an employee works at least one hour of labor in a day, one man-day is earned. Even if the worker works for more than one hour, it’s still counted as one man-day. Work done by immediate family members (spouses, children, parents) or neighboring farmers in a work-trade situation do not need to be counted as man-days.

To calculate man-days, a farm needs to track the number of people who worked each day and for how long they worked. The farmer should total all man-days in each calendar quarter of the previous year. If the number of man-days in any quarter exceeded 500, the farm owes at least the federal minimum wage this year.

Even if the farmer knows the farm will not cross the 500 man-day threshold, records must be kept to prove it. The failure to keep records will result in the minimum wage applying to your farm, even if the records would have shown (had the farm kept them) that the farm was under the 500 man-days. Accurate records will show who worked on each individual day, how long they worked, and what they did (to prove the labor was agricultural). A timesheet is the classic method for recording this information. However you keep these records, just make sure they are done consistently and accurately.

Some farmers don’t have the time or energy to track man-days and keep time sheets documenting the type of labor performed. This is fine, as long as the farm is paying at least the state/federal minimum wage (whichever is higher). Farms that are taking advantage of an exemption from the regular rule of paying at least the minimum wage are the ones that need to document their eligibility for that exemption.