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Farmworkers' Rights

Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program® LSC Funded
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Information

Last Revised: August 2005

The information provided below is a guide for the basic rights of a farmworker in Georgia. This information is not legal advice, nor is it intended to replace a consultation with a lawyer. This information does not describe every right you may have.

MINIMUM WAGE

Minimum wage is the amount of money that federal law requires you to be paid for every hour worked. All farmworkers, with few exceptions, have the right to receive the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour. If you are working with a grower under a contract, or you are promised a higher rate, that is what they need to pay you. If nothing is said about wages, they should pay you as a farmworker at least $5.15 per hour.

PIECE RATE

Many times farmworkers are not paid by the hour. Instead, the grower will pay by the piece rate, that is a set amount for a certain quantity of a crop picked (e.g. being paid $.70 per bag of product) or an amount of crop planted (e.g. being paid $.90 for each row transplanted). The piece rates should be posted so that farmworkers know what piece rates correspond to their work.

Even if you are paid by piece rate, your average earnings per hour should equal at least the federal minimum wage ($5.15 per hour) over the course of each pay period (normally a week). This means that when you divide the amount you got paid by the number of hours you worked that pay period, your pay should equal at least $5.15 per hour. If after the workweek (or the pay period) you aren't getting an average of $5.15 per hour, your employer should pay you the difference.

For this reason, it is a good idea to keep your own records of every hour you work each day so that you can be certain that you are making this guaranteed minimum average wage. This is important even if you are working by the piece rate.

WAITING AND TRAVEL TIME

If the employer asks that you arrive in a field at a certain time but then you must wait before actually beginning to work, these hours must be counted as hours worked. You have the right to receive pay for the time that you had to wait during the day. For example, they have to pay you for the time spent waiting for the boxes or bins to arrive, before you begin to pick or plant, and weighing in what you bring.

Also, the time that it takes to travel from field to field when the day has begun is also time that you should get paid for.

For this reason too, it is a good idea to keep your own careful records of hours worked so that you can check your pay stub to be certain that these hours are counted, including the hours you spent waiting and traveling between fields.

OVERTIME

When you work overtime, you should get paid one and a half times the regular hourly rate of pay. This means that you should get paid 150% of your regular wage. Whether a farmworker has the right to be paid overtime depends on the type of work. If the work is in a packing shed wherevegetables from different farms are processed, a worker has the right to get paid overtime pay after having worked 40 hours in one week.

Work in a cotton gin

If the work is in a cotton gin or in a sugar processing plant, a worker is entitled to overtime pay after having worked 48 hours in one week or 10 hours in a day.

No overtime for fieldwork

Unfortunately, Federal law does not provide overtime pay for field work.

PAY STATEMENTS AND RECORDS OF PAYMENT

Pay stubs

Farmworkers must receive a written pay statement each time they are paid. The stub should show the following:

1. the grower's name

2. address

3. identification number for federal taxes

4. the worker's name and identification number

5. total number of hours worked

6. how much they're paying per hour

7. total wages earned

8. total deductions that were made

9. net pay

10. gross pay

If the work is paid on a piece rate basis, the worker must be told in writing the number of pieces completed during the pay period.

If more than one person in each family works at the same place, each person must receive their payment and statement separately. This is required so each worker is able to tell if they are being paid properly.

Pay Records

Nearly all employers are required to keep records showing the hours worked by their employees, the wages paid, the rate of pay, piece rates, and any deductions from the employee's pay. Even though the grower should maintain this record, farmworkers should still save their pay stubs for their own records. For example, pay stubs are often necessary to apply for public benefits. Also, pay stubs are helpful when workers think they have been underpaid.

Keep your own records

It is a good idea for farmworkers to keep their own records of their work. You could write down the number of hours worked, the product picked, and the amount that they pay you per piece. This is important because when workers are paid, they themselves can review their pay stubs to be sure that they received the minimum wage (an average of $5.15 for each hour worked during a pay period). Both the pay stubs and a worker's own record of hours worked are very helpful when farmworkers want to collect their rightful wages.

DEDUCTIONS AND SOCIAL SECURITY

The grower has the right to deduct the following from a worker's wages: contributions to social security, federal and state taxes. Other deductions can be illegal, depending on the situation. Deductions for housing and food are not allowed unless the worker voluntarily says it's okay.

If the grower deducts housing costs from your check and it causes you to earn less than the minimum wage, the deduction is illegal if the housing does not comply with the health and safety standards.

If costs for food are deducted from your check and the result is that you earn less than the minimum wage, it is illegal if they deduct more than the actual cost of the food.

Deductions for alcohol are never legal. Additionally, deductions for cigarettes aren't legal either. Workers always have the freedom to buy things from anybody. Neither the grower, nor the contractor, nor your supervisor can demand that you buy something from them or from another set person.

Deductions for social security

Social security taxes are deducted from workers' wages so that later they are eligible for social security benefits when they retire or become disabled and can't work. The amount of social security benefits that you receive depends on the amount of time that you worked and how much your employers have paid into your social security account while you were working.

If a worker wants to know if their social security records are accurate they can ask the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA will then send to the worker a copy of his or her records.

If a grower or contractor deducts social security from your pay and then does not pay it over to the SSA, they are violating the law.

RECRUITMENT

Know your employer

It is very important for farmworkers to know the name and location of the farm where they work. Even if a farmworker only knows the farm labor contractor, in most cases, the farmer is also responsible for ensuring that the law is followed.

Contractor registration

All farm labor contractors must be licensed and registered with the United States Department of Labor. A farm labor contractor must show his or her license when requested. It is illegal for a farmer to use an unlicensed contractor to obtain and manage farmworkers.

Written disclosures with job details

Migrant workers (those workers who are away from their homes) must be given the following information in writing when they are recruited (when they are offered the job):

1. where they will be employed

2. type of work that they will do

3. if there is a charge for transportation

4. housing and insurance arrangements (and any charges for either)

5. wage rate to be paid

6. the length of the job

7. whether there is a strike or other labor dispute going on

This disclosure is mandatory for migrant workers. Seasonal and local workers must also be given written information if the workers ask for it. This information must be given in the language the worker uses most and understands best.

Oral Promises Must be Kept.

Even if you are not given the required written disclosure, the oral promises that were made when you were recruited should be kept. If these promises are not kept, you can seek legal assistance. A worker can receive money when promises are broken.

POSTING REQUIREMENT

Job information must be posted clearly at the work site and the housing where everyone is likely to see it. Growers and contractors must also put up a poster of farmworkers' rights at the work site where everyone can see it.

TRANSPORTATION

Farmworkers have the right to be transported in safe, properly insured vehicles driven by licensed drivers. For example, it is unsafe and illegal for a farmworker to be driven to the field in a truck that does not have enough seats for every worker. In addition to being illegal, this is very dangerous. A worker can receive money when this law is violated.

WORKERS RECRUITED THROUGH THE UNITED STATES EMPLOYMENT SERVICE

If a farmworker is recruited through the U.S. Employment Service (for example the Georgia Department of Labor or the Texas Workforce Commission), he or she is entitled to whatever is promised in the clearance order (which also might be known as "an H-2A contract"). In other words, he or she is entitled to all of the rights described in the contract. This is the farmworker's contract and it must be given to him or her by the time the job begins. The grower has to comply with the promises made in the contract.

INFORMATION FOR U.S. CITIZENS AND PERMANENT RESIDENTS

Right to an H-2A job

H-2A jobs are farm jobs that pay a minimum of $7.28 per hour. United States citizens, permanent residents, or other work-authorized individuals have the right to H-2A jobs (contract jobs where the grower brings in foreign workers) until the midpoint of the contract. For more information, you may contact Legal Services at 1-800-537-7496.

FOOD STAMPS

U.S. citizens or residents may be eligible for food stamps. Apply at the Department of Family and Children Services in the county in which you are living. The grower must give the social services office correct information about how much money you are earning.

VISITORS AND HOUSING

Camp housing is the farmworkers' home. Farmworkers have a right to receive visitors where they live.

Housing Conditions

Persons who own or control housing for farmworkers must ensure that housing standards are met:

1. structurally sound housing

2. housing free from insects and rodents

3. beds for each person at least 3 feet apart and12 inches off the floor

4. lights that work and safe electrical wiring

5. sanitary toilets

6. safe drinking water and showers with a sufficient amount of hot and cold water

7. garbage collected at least twice a week

Please note that there are additional requirements.

Housing Inspections

Whoever owns or controls farmworker housing must request that either federal or state authorities inspect the housing before farmworkers arrive.

Freedom to Leave

Farmworkers are always free to leave the camp at any time. The grower, contractor or crewleader cannot make a farmworker stay at the housing or on the camp against his or her will. This is true even if the farmworker owes money to the crewleader or employer.

Again, it is often illegal to be evicted for complaining about housing conditions. If a farmworker is being threatened with eviction, it would be a good idea for him or her to contact legal services or another attorney.

PESTICIDES

Pesticides are chemical poisons sprayed on crops to kill insects and weeds. They are dangerous because they are poisons. Pesticides can make you sick and in some cases, may cause death. It is illegal to spray while workers are in the field or to allow workers to work in areas just sprayed, unless you have special protections. You have the right to refuse to enter a field until it is safe (usually anywhere from 12-48 hours after spraying).

Prevention

To prevent against pesticide poisoning:

• Find out when and where pesticides are used by the employer.

• Keep children away from pesticides.

• Wear long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and gloves in the field.

• Wash clothes that have been exposed to pesticides before wearing them again. They should be

washed separately from other clothes.

• Do not use containers that have had pesticides in them for everyday chores.

Odors or residue means that pesticides were just sprayed

Sometimes it is hard to tell if pesticides have been sprayed. There may be a smell (like house-cleaning fluids or medicine) or a worker may see a colored liquid or powder on plants or on the ground, or there might be mist in the air.

Training and notices should be provided

Field workers must be given a pesticide safety training during the first week of work at a field where pesticides have been sprayed within the last month. Employers who use pesticides must post a list of all the pesticides used on the farm where farmworkers may be exposed. The list must be posted in a central location where farmworkers can see it and must contain the name of the chemical, the date and location where the pesticide will be sprayed and the amount of time the workers have to stay out of the field after it has been sprayed. Employers must either post a warning sign or give the workers an oral warning when it is possible that workers may enter an area that has been sprayed. You may contact us (Legal Services) for more information.

Symptoms of being exposed to pesticides

Symptoms of pesticide exposure can feel like you have a cold or the flu, or in some cases, symptoms may not show up right away. Other symptoms include headaches, heavy sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle spasms, stomach cramps, rash, shortness of breath, and difficulty in walking or speech.

If you think that you have been exposed to pesticides, you should:

1) immediately contact a doctor or clinic for treatment

AND

2) tell the doctor or the clinic that you were exposed to pesticides

If you think you have been exposed to pesticides you should tell your employer because the employer must provide you with transportation to a medical clinic and must give pesticide information to the medical worker If workers get sick because of pesticide exposure, a court can also help them.

FIELD SANITATION (RIGHT TO DRINKING WATER, TOILETS AND SINKS)

Every employer with more than 11 farmworkers who work in the field for more than 3 hours at a time must provide within a quarter of a mile of the field:

1) Cool drinking water and cups (or a drinking fountain)

AND

2) Toilets and hand washing facilities.

Georgia summers are very hot. It is very important to drink lots of fluids. Soda and alcohol are not as healthy as cool water. If you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy, tell your supervisor and get out of the sun.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Farmworkers may be eligible for unemployment compensation. This depends on the following factors, for example, who the employer is, how long a farmworker has worked for the grower, and the size of the grower's operation. Unemployment compensation is insurance that is carried through the employer and is paid to the employee when he or she is unemployed.

Even if a farmworker does not live in the state in which he or she worked, he or she may still collect unemployment benefits from his or her home state. This is done through the Interstate Benefit system. It allows eligible farmworkers to add up employment earnings from all states he or she has worked in during the year.

In order to apply for unemployment compensation benefits, a worker will need written records of wages and hours and names and addresses of his or her employer. If these records are not available, an affidavit may be filed.

If a farmworker is denied unemployment compensation, he or she may contact Legal Services or another attorney. Once benefits are denied, a person has a right to a hearing. It is important to contact an attorney right away since there is only a short time after the date of being denied benefits that allows a person to appeal and request a hearing.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

Under Georgia law, farmers do not have to provide workers' compensation for farmworkers unless they choose to do so. If an employer elects to cover some of his or her farmworkers with workers' compensation, then employees are covered. If a farmworker is employed by a grower who also employs H-2A workers (foreign workers with a special visa called H-2A, also known as contract workers), then the grower must provide workers' compensation to all other employees as well. Federal law requires that a farmer employing H-2A workers provide workers' compensation to all employees.

If a farmworker has been injured while working, he or she needs to see a doctor immediately. Please note that if you are injured on the job and want a lawyer to help, that you should contact a lawyer as soon after the accident as possible because you may lose certain rights if you wait too long.

NOTE TO WORKERS AT FARMS WITH AN H-2A CONTRACT

If you are working at a farm where there are H-2A workers (Foreign workers, usually from Mexico that have a special visa to work at the farm), you have additional rights which are not mentioned in this book. For example, if you perform the same jobs as an H-2A worker, the employer must pay you at least an average of $7.28 an hour over each pay period.

RETALIATION AND DISCRIMINATION PROHIBITED

All farmworkers have the right to know what their rights are and also have the right to ask that the law be followed. If an employer is not following the law, the law means nothing unless workers ask that the law be followed. You can ask that the law be followed yourself, or through an attorney, either way your request is protected. It is illegal for a farmer, contractor, or a crewleader to retaliate or discriminate against any worker who asks a question about their legal rights or who takes any action to enforce the law. For example, farmworkers should never be fired from their job for asking that the minimum wage be paid nor should they be evicted from a camp for complaining about conditions that affect their safety or health. A farmworker who thinks that he or she is being discriminated against for exercising his or her rights should immediately contact a lawyer.

Remember that you can call us from anywhere if something occurs to you after ending your work here in Georgia. You can call us toll-free at 1-800-537-7496 or collect at 011-1-229-386-3566

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The information is a guide for the basic rights of a farmworker in Georgia. It is not legal advice, nor is it intended to replace a consultation in person with a lawyer. This information does not describe every right you have.

If you want to speak with Georgia Legal Services Program please call our toll-free number 1-800-537-7496..

If you want to know what your specific rights are in a specific situation, you may call our office at 1-800-537-7496. We can speak on the phone, or we can come see you. If we are not available to take your call, please leave a message on the answering machine, after the tone, with your name, place of employment, your telephone number, and/or a time you will call again. We cannot help you if we do not know who called or how to contact you. When you contact us and ask for our help, what you tell us will remain confidential unless you authorize us to tell someone. We cannot act on your behalf unless you qualify for our services and you authorize us to do so.

The Farmworkers Division of Georgia Legal Services has other materials regarding farmworkers' rights in Georgia. For example, we have a booklet of real cases where workers exercised their rights, won money, and made conditions better for all. Legal Services also has record books where you can write down the work that you do (to see if the employer is paying you just wages). Call us at 1-800-537-7496 if you would like this additional material.

HOW TO LEAVE A MESSAGE WITH LEGAL SERVICES:

Sometimes when you call 1-800-537-7496 (Legal Services), our answering machine will answer. There is a message in English and Spanish, listen to the entire message. Wait for the beep, then:

Speak clearly and slowly.

Say your first and last name (we will keep it confidential).

Say where you are calling from. For example, tell your mailing address or, if you don't have an address, tell the name of the city where you live and the farm where you were working.

Tell us your telephone number or give a number where you can be reached.

Tell us a time that you will call back (for example, I will call on Tuesday at 6 pm).

Briefly explain your problem.

That's it. Thanks! The next day we will listen to and respond to your message.

Dawson Morton
Programa de los Servicios Legales de Georgia, División de Trabajadores Agrícolas
Last Revised: August 2005

Last Review and Update: Aug 23, 2005