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Andrew Branan, ARE Extension Assistant Professor, was invited to participate in a discussion on employment law issues faced by farms and value-added meat businesses at the Carolina Meat Conference (CMC) in Charlotte, NC on October 7, 2019.
The annual CMC, organized by NC Choices and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, is a broad gathering of sustainable and niche meat farm producers and processors from North Carolina and beyond. Branan, along with Jamie Ager, owner of Hickory Nut Gap Meats, and Casey Mckissick, owner of Foothills Local Meats, discussed various tips and challenges of recruiting, training, and developing a productive workforce while avoiding certain pitfalls. Branan, for his part, highlighted the challenges posed by labor law agricultural exemptions – including those in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina Workers Compensation Act – when farm labor is employed on the side of value-added meat processing, which can present a grey area between differing workers’ compensation requirements between agricultural labor and labor that may be considered non-agricultural. For example, agricultural operations are not statutorily required to carry workers compensation when employing ten or fewer non-seasonal regular employees (this excludes H-2A labor), whereas a non-agricultural operation must carry workers compensation when employing 3 or more employees. Meat producers who also manage their own processing must take care when crossing this boundary, which presently under North Carolina law is not clear. Branan emphasized that producers and processors should not be shy about consulting with an attorney specializing in employment law issues when weighing such matters, or even when looking to develop documentation systems such as employee handbooks and evaluation tools.