The overtime exemption for agricultural employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies not only to farmers working the land but also to other types of workers employed in conjunction with farming operations, even if they work away from a farm, as a January 9 appeals court ruling illustrates.
In Rodriguez v. Pure Beauty Farms, +2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 514 (11th Cir. 2013), the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two employees of a Florida commercial nursery qualified for the FLSA's overtime exemption for farmers and other agricultural workers.
Pure Beauty Farms (the Farms) sold many of its plants at local outlets of the national hardware store chain Home Depot. The plants remained the property of the Farms until they were scanned for sale at the Home Depot's cash registers. The employees' main job duties were to take care of the Farms' plants on site at the Home Depot until they were sold - inspecting the plants for insects; watering them if necessary; arranging them so they would get the right amount of sunlight or shade; and removing dead flowers, leaves, thorns, branches or rotted buds.
The Farms had classified the employees as exempt under the agricultural exemption and paid them only straight-time wages for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, rather than time and a half.
The employees filed a lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime, arguing, among other things, that the Home Depot amounted to a separate enterprise for the wholesale or retail distribution of nursery stock, which would have voided their exemption under +29 C.F.R. § 780.209.
That regulation cites two contrasting examples to illustrate what types of arrangements amount to a separate enterprise.
In Walling v. Rocklin, +132 F.2d 3 (8th Cir. 1942), a flower shop owned by a nearby greenhouse, which drew 90 percent of its stock from the greenhouse, was not a separate enterprise.
By contrast, in Mitchell v. Huntsville Nurseries, +267 F.2d 286 (5th Cir. 1959), a packing and storage warehouse of a large plant wholesaler where the employees primarily handled nursery stock from other, out-of-state growers, not from the wholesaler's own nearby farm, was a separate enterprise.
The 11th Circuit concluded that the nursery employees in question were more like the employees in Walling: "Here, the Farms handles and sells only its own plants, and [the employees] watered, pruned, and cared for only the Farms' plants situated at the Home Depot stores. Unlike the employees in Mitchell, [the employees in Rodriguez] did not work in a wholesale distribution center for other growers' horticultural products."