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Labor and Employment Law

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[Farm Law editor’s note: the following piece is in draft pending academic peer review, and written as part of the series Farm Law: Owning, Managing and Transferring Farm Interests, sponsored by the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Project # #583400-10363. Comments to are welcome.]

The narratives and resources in the section cover the basics of how federal and state employment law applies to farms and other agriculture-related employment.


Fair Labor Standards Act:  Summary of Application to FarmingThe Fair Labor Standards Act is the primary federal legislation covering all U.S. workplaces and employment, concerning matters of minimum wage, overtime pay, employment of minors, and records of employment. This narrative covers application of this landmark federal law applies to farming, illustrating with examples how and when farms are exempt.

Workers Compensation InsuranceWorkers’ Compensation Insurance (a/k/a Workmans’ Comp) – when required by state law – serves as an employee’s sole remedy for covered workplace injuries. This short narrative provides a brief overview of workers compensation insurance and its application and exemptions in farming operations.

Farm Worker SafetyThis short narrative discusses farm safety provisions and exemptions under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Recruitment of Non-Immigrant Foreign Labor:  The H-2A Program. This short narrative provides a very brief overview of the H-2A program, the federal immigration program whereby non-U.S. resident farm workers (guest workers) may enter the U.S. legally to work.

Seasonal and Migrant Labor ProtectionsAlthough less common than in the past, agricultural workers – both documented and undocumented – continue to travel beyond commuting distance from home to work on farms, sometimes to follow the harvest of crops as they happen in different regions of the county. The Seasonal and Migrant Worker Protection Act places requirements on farms and contractors (including those who coordinate H-2A hiring and placement) who provide labor on various matters concerning these workers.

Proper Worker Classification: Employee or Contractor? Employers must take care to properly classify labor as employee or contractor. An employee classification places various requirements on the employer, such as withholding of income taxes, payment of unemployment security insurance, as well as social security withholdings. The classification can also be important in determining employer liability for the negligent acts of an employee which cause injury.

Proof of Worker Eligibility (Immigration Status)Federal Immigration law requires that U.S. employers verify the immigration status of all employees to determine whether they may legally work in the U.S. This link provides a list of acceptable documents to verify status.


Legal Issues in Farm Labor. This presentation provides a summary of how labor law is applied to farming at federal and state level.


Beyond Basic Compensation. This pamphlet published by the National Center for Appropriate Technology and the California Institute for Rural Studies explores a variety of employee compensation models on farms, including profit-sharing plans, bonus structure, and stock ownership plans.


Content loaded to Agricultural and Natural Resource Law portal, including narratives, workbooks, and presentations, is supported by various soTobacco Trust Fund Commission logo imageurces including The North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission (TTFC) (Grant award 2019-001-16).