How California's Overtime Laws Are Affecting Growers and Farmworkers
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Legislation, Labor and Lettuce: How California’s Overtime Laws Are Affecting Growers and Farmworkers

Harvesting iceberg lettuce or picking grapes from the vine are typical farm jobs in California, but these jobs do not share many parallels with the average American’s desk job. This is why agricultural jobs historically have had their own set of labor laws. The minimum wage, overtime regulations, and minimum age to work laws are often different for agricultural jobs than the rest of the workforce.

Most states exempt agricultural workers from overtime protections but California is leading the movement to change that. In 2016, California governor Jerry Brown signed the A.B. 1066 bill into law that mandates California growers to pay overtime to their farmworkers for any work done in excess of eight hours per day.

The law has outraged many grower associations because they fear the new law will disadvantage California farms who compete against growers out-of-state. Many farmers have threatened to move operations out-of-state or shut down their business altogether.

The new overtime law coupled with the worker shortage brought on by the Trump administration’s hardline stance on immigration has led some growers to switch to crops that are less labor-intensive to reduce payroll costs. Many farmworkers have seen their hours slashed and paychecks shrink.

For a radical change of this magnitude, it is important that everyone involved in the agricultural sector understands the mechanics of the law.

What Does The New Law Actually Change?

Before the law, titled Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016, agricultural workers were only entitled to overtime pay for every hour worked in excess of ten hours a day, sixty hours a week, and for the first eight hours of a 7th consecutive workday.

Over the next several years, the law will phase in new overtime rules for farmworkers. Beginning in 2019, growers must pay their workers 1.5 times their regular wage for every hour worked in excess of fifty-five hours a week or nine and a half hours in a single day.

By 2022, the overtime rules for farm workers will mirror that of desk jobs: any work done in excess of eight hours in a single workday or forty hours in a workweek must be compensated at a rate of 1.5 times their normal wage.

Does The Law Apply To Small Farms?

Yes and no. Growers who employ 25 or fewer workers are allotted a longer time period to adjust to the new pay scale. These farms have until 2025 before they are forced to pay their farmworkers 1.5 times their normal wage for hours in excess of eight per day and forty per week.

Does The Law Apply To Undocumented Farmworkers?

Yes. While undocumented workers may be more hesitant to file complaints for wage violations, they are nonetheless protected by the California Labor Code, including the new overtime laws.

What Happens If A Grower Does Not Pay Overtime According To The Law?

Since the new law creates a several gradual increases in wages over the next four years, it is possible that growers may accidentally or intentionally not update their pay scale in accordance with the law.

An employer who does not pay farmworkers the legal wage for overtime is in violation of the California Labor Code and subject to the criminal penalties therein. Growers are treated the same as any other employer in violation of the Code. Their workers may pursue wage violation suits to collect the money they are owed if they were not paid correctly under the code.

In some circumstances, an employer who violated the California Labor Code may be ordered to reimburse the employee for back pay, interest on that back pay, and attorneys fees.

If you believe you have been paid less than you are entitled to under the California Labor Code or have questions about your rights under the new law, please contact our office. We are a high-performance law firm with years of experience in protecting the rights of workers.