Wage and Hour Laws
The rules and regulations surrounding wages, overtime, and breaks vary from state to state, and often state law is not aligned with federal law. Note that this guide is designed to help farmers ensure that they are adhering to applicable laws, but it is not a legal document and is not exhaustive.
Massachusetts minimum wage is currently $12* per hour; the agricultural minimum wage in Massachusetts is currently $8 per hour; and the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. When state and federal law don’t agree, the law that is more protective of the worker applies, so farm workers in this state generally must be paid the MA minimum wage or agricultural minimum wage, both of which are currently higher than federal minimum wage. There are limited exemptions to both state and federal minimum wage that apply to certain farm workers, as described below.
- Massachusetts Exemption – In Massachusetts, employees doing certain types of farm work are exempt from the regular MA minimum wage of $12* per hour. Farm workers who work exclusively on the farm premises in the “growing and harvesting of agricultural, floricultural, and horticultural commodities,” are subject to a reduced agricultural minimum wage of $8 per hour. This most likely does not include workers whose job description includes retail work or work that is off of farm premises. In addition, workers handling goods from other farms or engaged in processing or agritourism likely have to be paid Massachusetts minimum wage. Click here for more information on what is considered farm work for purposes of the agricultural minimum wage. In addition, farm workers under the age of 18 may be paid a youth minimum wage (not less than $4.25 per hour) for the first 90 consecutive days after their initial employment at the farm.
- Federal Exemption – Note that this federal exemption to minimum wage has less impact on farms at present because MA minimum wage and agricultural minimum wage are both higher than federal minimum wage. However, this exemption is still important in light of the fact that federal minimum wage may be raised. Small farms that clocked fewer than 500 “man days” in every calendar quarter of the previous year are exempt from federal minimum wage (but not Massachusetts minimum wage or Massachusetts agricultural minimum wage). A “man day” is any day where an employee who is not in the immediate family of the farm owner reports to work for at least one hour. For example, a farm with six workers each working six days per week over the course of the busiest quarter would count as 36 “man days” per week and would fall just under the 500 “man day” threshold. For farms that exceed this threshold, just two specific categories of workers are exempt from federal (but not state) minimum wage: 1) immediate family (i.e. spouses, parents, children, or siblings) of the farm owner and 2) piece-rate hand harvesters who commute daily to work and who worked on a farm for less than thirteen weeks in the previous year.
- Non-profit Exemption – People doing work on non-profit farms may be exempt from both federal and state minimum wage if they are considered “volunteers” or “interns.” A “volunteer” is someone who donates their services – usually on a part-time basis and without contemplation of pay – for religious, public service, or humanitarian objectives. To have a qualified “internship,” the institution offering the internship must be a charitable, educational, or religious institution, and the position should involve training similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, should be for the benefit of the intern, should not displace regular employees, and should give no immediate advantage to the employer. More information on the Massachusetts definition of “intern” is available in this opinion letter. Note that under Massachusetts law, for-profit farms can never legally have volunteers or interns working on their farm who are paid less than minimum wage (i.e. either $12 or $8 depending on job duties), except when the worker is doing a qualified internship through a charitable, educational, or religious institution.
Massachusetts and federal laws agree that most hourly workers must be paid 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for any hours worked in excess of 40 in a given week. Both state and federal law exempt some agricultural laborers from overtime during any week in which they solely perform work that is exempt. The types of farm work that are generally exempt from overtime at the federal and state level are detailed below, with the caveat that these remain subject to some interpretation by regulatory agencies.
Types of farm work that are clearly exempt from overtime under both federal and Massachusetts law include any work performed on the farm premises that is field work, tractor operation, packing, loading, and preparation of a farm’s own produce for market. Any retail work or work off of the farm premises is generally subject to overtime according to state law, and any agritourism, handling of goods from other farms, and most processing (especially when the processing includes any off-farm ingredients or changes produce composition) is subject to overtime according to federal law. Click here for more information on what is considered farm work for purposes of overtime exemptions.
Farms can apply for an exemption from Massachusetts (but not federal) overtime requirements if their business or a specified part of their business is seasonal in nature and is conducted for 120 days or less per year. To apply for such a seasonal business waiver, farms must complete and submit a seasonal business overtime application available here.
A small subset of salaried farm workers may qualify as exempt from both federal and state overtime requirements if they are executive or administrative employees. A worker may qualify for the executive exemption if their primary duty is to manage a farm enterprise or subdivision of the enterprise, they direct the work of at least two employees in that enterprise, and have significant authority to hire and fire employees. A worker may qualify for the administrative exemption if their primary duty is office or non-manual work directly related to farm management or business operations, and the job requires them to exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.
State law requires that employees be given a continuous half-hour break for every six hours they work, during which time they must be permitted to leave the work site and may not be required to do any work. This break may be unpaid, and it is voluntary. However, if employees choose not to take a break they must be paid for all hours worked. Employees must also be paid for any time they are required to be on site or on duty at your request, regardless of whether or not you have assigned them a task.
Work on Sundays and Holidays
If a farm employs more than seven people over the course of a week (including the owner) and operates a retail business on Sundays or holidays, Massachusetts premium pay laws apply. Any employees on such a farm who do retail tasks on Sundays or holidays (i.e. New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day after 12pm, and Veteran’s Day before 1pm) are owed premium pay, which is 1.4 times the worker’s regular hourly rate in 2019. Note that if a worker earns overtime, the amount paid in overtime can offset premium pay requirements for that week. Legislation was passed in 2018 that will phase out premium pay completely by 2023, with the rate lowering to 1.3 times regular wages in 2020, 1.2 times in 2021, and 1.1 times in 2022.
Farms should also be aware that Massachusetts “blue laws” impose restrictions on which businesses can operate on Sundays and holidays. In general, retail operations are not permitted to operate on Columbus Day before 12pm, on Veterans Day before 1pm, or on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. However, many non-retail tasks can legally be performed on Sundays and holidays, including the “cultivation of land and the raising and harvesting of agricultural products and fruit … the making of butter and cheese … and the transport or processing of fresh meat, fresh poultry, fresh fish, fresh seafoods, fresh dairy products, fresh bakery products, fresh fruits or fresh vegetables … when circumstances require that such work be done on Sunday.” For more information on the Massachusetts “blue laws,” see this webpage.
All workers under 18 must get a work permit from their school district, must be directly supervised by an accessible adult after 8pm, and must have at least one day of rest per week. Under both federal and state law, minors are not allowed to perform certain types of hazardous work. A list of such types of restricted work under federal law can be found here and under Massachusetts law can be found here.
For workers under 18, there are restrictions on work hours. Workers who are 16 or 17 years old may work any time from 6am-11:30pm (or 10pm on school nights), a maximum of 48 hours per week and 9 hours per day. For workers under the age of 16, work during the school year can only be between 7am and 7pm, a maximum of 18 hours per week and 3 hours per day on school days or 8 hours/day on weekends; and work during the summer can only be between 7am and 9pm, a maximum of 40 hours per week and 8 hours per day.
Pay and Deductions
- Reporting pay – An employee must be paid for three hours of work at minimum wage if they are scheduled to work at least three hours, show up for work on time, and are not provided with the expected hours of work. This does not apply to farms that are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
- Travel time – Time spent traveling between home and work is not paid, but if employees are required to travel during a work day or for work, that time must be paid.
- Pay period – Workers must be paid within six days of the end of a pay period. Hourly employees must be paid at least biweekly, and piecework employees must be paid at least weekly.
- Termination pay – If an employee is fired or laid off, they must be paid in full on their last day of work. If an employee quits, they must be paid in full on the next regular pay day. Wages include earned vacation time.
- Deductions – With very limited exceptions, any deductions that are not required by law (taxes, etc) or employee-authorized (health insurance, etc), may not reduce an employee’s salary below minimum wage. For example, deductions for mandatory farm tools or clothing or for damage done by an employee would not be allowed. Limited deductions may sometimes be allowed for providing housing and meals, but the allowable deductions can never exceed $35 per week for lodging and $42 per week for meals, and in many cases they must be lower. Moreover, housing must meet certain standards, and an employer can only take deductions if they are disclosed in writing to the employee, they are voluntary, and the employee accepts the deductions in writing.
- Pay Equity – Massachusetts law prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about past wages and compensation histories at any point during the hiring process. The purpose of this law is to help remedy the pay gap between men and women.
* The Massachusetts regular minimum wage will increase to $12.75 as of January 1, 2020, $13.50 as of January 1, 2021, $14.25 as of January 1, 2022, and $15 as of January 1, 2023.
This webpage was last updated January 2019 and is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture under award 2016-70017-25423, and by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 16FMPPMA0002. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.