Agricultural Employers Face Increased Federal Enforcement

Alston & Bird

Our Agricultural Policy Team explains why agricultural employers can expect to see a more active Wage and Hour Division going forward under the Biden Administration.

  • How is the WHD focusing on farmworker rights?
  • What penalties is the WHD enforcing on employers?
  • Is the WHD helping employers comply?

On March 25, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) launched an initiative aimed at increasing enforcement on agricultural employers. According to the release, the WHD is developing targeted outreach and education efforts to promote farmworker rights as well as “educating growers, farm labor contractors, other agricultural employers and industry stakeholders to ensure that they understand their responsibilities.” The division has encouraged workers to file a complaint if a violation occurs.

This initiative also announces that the Department of Labor is taking stronger steps to enforce employer compliance with established federal labor laws. According to the department, “in fiscal year 2020, the Wage and Hour Division conducted more than 1,000 investigations in agriculture and found more than $7 million in back wages owed to more than 11,000 workers. In its investigations, the division assessed employers with more than $6 million in civil money penalties.” The WHD has also stated it will debar for up to three years H-2A employers that do not comply with the program requirements. Stronger enforcement has been called for by farm labor as well as greater awareness toward violations carried out by farm labor contractors, one of the fastest growing sectors of farm labor employment.

To assist employers, the WHD has developed an Agricultural Compliance Assistance Toolkit. The toolkit consolidates helpful information for agricultural employers, including information on the H-2A visa program, Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act, and information for registering as a farm labor contractor.

This announcement comes on the heels of President Biden proclaiming March 23, 2021 as National Agriculture Day. The action aligns not only with National Agriculture Week, but National Farmworker Awareness Week, coordinated by Student Actions with Farmworkers.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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