Washington State Supreme Court Rules Dairy Workers Entitled to Overtime

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Dairies in Washington must pay workers overtime wages, based on a Washington Supreme Court decision issued November 5, 2020. Under Washington state law, employers must pay at least the applicable minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime wages when working beyond the 40 hour per week overtime threshold, but the law exempts dairies from the overtime requirement. The Court held that the exemption violated the state constitution's prohibition on granting a privilege or immunity, as well as the equal protection clause.

While the Court reviewed the constitutionality of the provision exempting all agricultural workers from the state's overtime pay requirement, it distinguished the year-round nature of the dairy industry from seasonal farm work. The opinion applies only to the "affected class of agricultural workers"—dairy workers—and addresses only Washington state wage and hour law.

Under federal law, farms in Washington that hire foreign agricultural workers under the H-2A temporary seasonal worker program must pay foreign and U.S. workers according to the applicable adverse effect wage rate (AEWR), which is currently $15.83 per hour for Washington. While federal law also exempts agricultural employers from overtime requirements, dairies are not eligible for the H-2A program because the work is year-round and not seasonal.

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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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