18: Labor Laws
If you host interns or apprentices on your farm, they must also be covered by workers’ comp. Unpaid farm internships are mostly illegal. This is to say, interns and students working for “for-profit” employers should generally be treated as employees entitled to minimum wages and overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act unless the following criteria have been met:
- The internship (even though it includes the actual operation of the employer’s business) is similar to training given in an educational environment.
- The internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit. The internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern, not the employer.
- The intern should not displace regular employees but work under close supervision of existing staff.
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and (on occasion) its operations may actually be impeded.
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Employers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance on their workers if cash wages reached or exceeded $1,200 in the preceding year. Coverage must be obtained effective April 1st of the year immediately following the year where the farm had $1,200 or more of wages.
The Employers’ Handbook
Insurance can be purchased from the New York State Insurance Fund (http://ww3.nysif.com/), private insurers, or an employer can form/join a self-insurance group if they meet various requirements and post bond. Farmers can also purchase Workers Compensation Insurance through Safety Group 486, associated with the NY Farm Bureau (https://www.nyfb.org/programs/workers-compensation).
State law requires that employees be covered by a disability benefit if they are disabled off the job. Most workers compensation insurance will also include this. Family members (spouse or child) and farm laborers are exempt from this requirement. Farm corporate officers and office workers need disability benefits coverage. If the farm is held as a corporation or LLC then the family member exemption does not apply because no one is related to a business entity.
For more information on interns, apprentices, and volunteers, generally, see the Farm Commons resource:
Managing Risks of Interns and Volunteers.
As of the revision date noted on the cover of this Guide, the Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25/hr. The New York State Minimum Wage is at least $11.10/hr with yearly scheduled increases until they reach $15.00/hr. This wage minimum applies to regular wage jobs and piece-rate jobs on farms that paid $3,000 in cash wages during the prior calendar year. It excludes immediate family and minors under 17 years of age employed on the same farm as their parents or guardians who are paid on a piece-rate basis at the same rate as employees over 17.
The wage order permits deductions for meals and lodging supplied by an employer, except for lodging for seasonal migrant workers. Payments in kind may be permitted at not more than the farm market value.
Employers must post a summary of the wage order in a conspicuous place in their establishment, along with a copy of the general work agreement.
Youth Rate Certificate for Farm Work
In agriculture you can legally pay children under the age of 16 (with a permit and other criteria satisfied) a minimum of $3.20/hr for their first season of harvest; several other minimums apply depending on the work. You must file a Youth Rate Certificate to hire youth for less than minimum wage:
If you employ your own minor age children on the farm, they are exempt from all minimum wage regulation, meaning that they can be paid any wage. This only applies to your own children; nieces/nephews or other minor age family members are subject to state wage laws.
Youth Labor (excluding your own children)
You may not hire anyone 11 years or younger in New York State. 12- and 13-year-olds may work in harvest operations if they have Permit AT-25 and are accompanied by a parent during certain times of the day and year. 14- and 15-year-olds may work on farms with Permit AT-24 during non-school hours. Permits and working papers may be obtained from school offices. Farm workers under 16 are prohibited from performing farm tasks involving power machinery. 16- and 17-year-olds may work on farms without permits or working papers.
Under NYS Child Labor law, 14 & 15 year-olds are allowed to work 18 hrs/week when school is in session and 40 hrs/week when school is not in session. 16 & 17 year-olds are allowed to work 28 hrs/week when school is in session and 48 hrs/week when school is not in session. Contact your local NYS Department of Labor Office for more details: https://www.labor.ny.gov/home/.
Note that the minimum wage generally applies to anyone who does work on a for-profit farm, including interns, apprentices, and even volunteers. Non-compliance with these rules may result in back pay and fines.
For more information on upcoming Minimum Wage increases in New York State, access the following websites:
New York State Department of Labor
Farm Employment Law: Know the rules and make them work for your farm.
Migrant Workers – Selected Issues
Growers and processors who bring in five or more workers from out of state must obtain a Migrant Labor Registration Certificate and report wages, housing, and working condition to the state.
If you plan to house five or more workers you must obtain a farm labor camp permit from the State Department of Labor.
Workers must be given written notice of wages, nature of work, period of employment, transportation, housing, benefits, and more. Several Spanish/English work forms are available at:
For More Information Contact:
NYS Dept. of Labor
Extension Agent Thomas Maloney
You can also purchase the NY Farm Bureau’s Guide to Labor and Employment Laws for $75, or $40 for members, at https://www.nyfb.org/application/files/2215/0238/6414/Legal_Guides_Flyer_REV_03_24_17.pdf