Recent Legal Enforcement Actions Against Farm Employers of Migrant Workers: Good Reminder to Follow
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
By Sarah Everhart
The article is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (“MSPA”) protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures, and recordkeeping. For a detailed overview of the MSPA, check out this past post and this ALEI publication on Legal Responsibilities When Hiring Migrant, Seasonal and H2A Visa Workers. Another great source of information is the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Employment Law Guide and/or MSPA fact sheet.
To summarize, agricultural employers and farm labor contractors must pay workers their wages when due, and give workers itemized, written statements of earnings for each pay period, including any amount deducted and the reasons for the deduction. Additionally, housing for migrant and seasonal workers must comply with federal and state safety and health standards and a written statement of the terms and conditions of occupancy must be posted at the housing site where it can be seen or handed out to workers. Agricultural employers and farm labor contractors must also use safe vehicles to transport workers. Lastly, agricultural employers and farm labor contractors must inform migrant and seasonal agricultural workers about prospective employment, including the work to be performed, wages to be paid, the period of employment, and whether state workers’ compensation or state unemployment insurance will be provided.
Recent, widely publicized violations of the MSPA highlight the need for all employers of migrant and seasonal workers to understand their legal responsibilities and the potential consequences of failing to follow the law.
According to a DOL press release, Future Ag Management Inc., a farm labor contractor based in California, was ordered to pay $168,082 in penalties in February 2018 to resolve (“MSPA”) violations. DOL inspectors found Future Ag Management Inc. provided housing agricultural workers with illegal and substandard conditions during lettuce and cauliflower harvests in California during the summer of 2017. The violations included housing 22 employees illegally in facilities which failed to offer the minimum square footage required per person, providing only one shower and sink to the 22 employees, and providing restroom facilities found unsanitary and infested with insects. Local health authorities also determined that the employer-provided water for the workers for washing and drinking was unsafe for human consumption.
In March 2018 the DOL announced Mavrode Farms, LLC, a wholesale florist in New Jersey, had violated the overtime, minimum wage, and recordkeeping provisions of the Federal Labor Standards Act as well as the housing, wage, and disclosure provisions of MSPA. The investigation determined that the employer violated MSPA requirements when it failed to provide workers with copies of work contracts, pay promised wages, or ensure housing safety and health for migrant workers.
Employees and employers with questions about MSPA may call the Wage and Hour Division of DOL’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). All calls are confidential. More information is available online at http://www.dol.gov/whd/. Farm employers in Maryland may also contact Merlin Williams, State Rural Service Coordinator, Department of Labor and Licensing Regulation, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 301-393-8218.