Confusing Labor Laws Lead to Trouble for Farm Employers

If you've hired help on your operation, you're probably aware of the Department of Labor (DOL) regulations that exempt agricultural workers from being paid overtime.  The idea behind this regulation is that farming and ranching isn't the kind of work that follows a normal schedule.  There's only so much daylight in a day, and producers have to take advantage of every second.  But just because the work being done is happening on your operation doesn't necessarily mean it's an ag job.  That distinction has created some unpleasant surprises for a few northeast farmers including possible fines, and hefty bills for back wages.   The scenario that caused one farmer trouble looks like this.  He has employees who milk his cows and employees who work in the small farm's processing plant where the milk is made into yogurt.  The DOL found that the cow milkers were agricultural labor and exempt from earning overtime.  But, according to the DOL's Daniel Cronin, when farmers "change the raw and unmanufactured state of the agricultural commodity, it can take them outside the definition of agriculture." The farmers involved were surprised to learn this, and I can't blame them.  After reading parts of the DOL's Field Operations Handbook, and checking out the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR( Interpretive Bulletin 780 things aren't so straight forward. Here's what I f

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