CCE Labor Road Show – Historic changes to farm labor lawsby Katie Navarra

The New Year is ushering in more than a new decade — it’s the start of an unprecedented number of changes to labor law. Cornell Cooperative Extension Agricultural Workforce Specialist Richard E. Stup, Ph.D., said the number of changes to workforce law is a historic number. Stup organized a statewide series of “Labor Road Show” workshops in late November to help farmers navigate the impending changes.

“The New York legislature passed the Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act in 2019 and the governor signed it into law,” Stup said. “This is the result of a decades-long political battle that labor advocates have pushed and agriculture interests have defended against.”

Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, New York farms will be required to pay overtime at 1.5 times the rate of regular pay for almost all employees working more than 60 hours per week. This applies to any individual hired to work on a farm except for a parent, spouse, child or immediate family member, explained agricultural workforce experts Joshua H. Viau with Fisher & Phillips LLP and Charles B. Palmer with Michael Best Associates. Administrative and professional staff are excluded from overtime as long as they are paid no less than $885 per week and their duties relate to the management of the farm.

Another new requirement is that farm laborers must be given one day of rest out of every seven days. That means anyone employed as farm labor must receive 24 consecutive hours off in each calendar week. These individuals may elect to work on the day of rest, but employers must pay the employee overtime. When possible, this day should coincide with the person’s religious observances, Viau and Palmer said. A 24-hour rest period caused by weather or crop conditions satisfies the requirement.

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Previously, farm workers were exempt from New York’s Paid Family Leave. That is no longer the case. Beginning immediately, laborers are entitled to 10 weeks of paid family leave if they qualify. That means they must remain in employment for 26 weeks of the year if they work more than 20 hours a week. If they work fewer than 20 hours a week they must work 175 hours.

This leave is funded by employees through payroll deduction. Qualifying leave includes time to bond with a newborn or recently adopted or foster child; care for a family member with a serious health condition; or when a family member is deployed. Palmer and Viau emphasized that employers cannot discriminate against employee using leave.

“Failing to comply with overtime laws could result in back wages, fines and even liquidated damages that need to be paid by the employer,” Stup said.

Changes range from insurance to organized labor to sexual harassment prevention to the new requirements for overtime. Overtime will be the biggest and most immediate change for farm owners, Stup said.

Also effective Jan. 1, all farm employees must be covered under New York State Statutory Disability. Farm owners must put this into place and the cost is community rated under 50 people, but premiums with more than that can be provided on request. Mark Modzeleski from Legacy Wealth Providers and Dave Kibler from Farm & Country Insurance explained that premiums may be paid entirely by the farmer or split with the employee. However, an employee can’t be obligated to pay more than half of the first 1% of $120 in wages up to a maximum of 60 cents per employee.

“My advice is to focus on the absolutely critical parts, such as getting required disability and Paid Family Leave Insurance in place right away,” Stup said. “Making sure you are meeting the overtime and day of rest requirements is critical. For small farms the addition of unions and collective bargaining may not be as important but all farms need to be aware of their responsibilities in a union environment.”

Stup also presented about these and other changes in a webinar hosted by Farm Credit East. It is available for viewing at