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Avoiding Overtime Traps for Agricultural Employers

April 7, 2011

The growing season will soon be in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest.  Although Oregon and Washington have similar climate conditions that yield some of the most bountiful and quality harvests in the nation, the two states have somewhat different overtime regulations impacting agricultural employers.  Agricultural employers should carefully read their state’s minimum wage laws to determine if their operation qualifies as exempt from overtime requirements.

For example, Oregon employers are generally not required to pay overtime to employees performing work incidental to or in conjunction with farming operations.  However, there are qualifications to this general rule.  According to Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (“BOLI”), only agricultural workers engaged in agricultural practices for 100 percent of the pay period qualify for the overtime exemption.  Therefore, if an agricultural employee works more than 40 hours in a week and undertakes any non-agricultural work during that time, the employer must pay the employee overtime in accordance with state and federal law.  BOLI uses the example of workers who sell gift items in a retail shop operated by a nursery, or who pack fruit grown by a neighboring farmer.  In instances like these, the labor does not qualify as agricultural employment under Oregon’s exemption law, and the workers must be paid overtime if their hours exceed 40 hours in a week.

Washington overtime regulations similarly include an exemption for agricultural workers. However, when compared with Oregon’s overtime exemption law, Washington adopted a broader definition of agricultural work that would qualify as exempt from overtime compensation. For example, Washington’s overtime exemption provision specifically includes packaging and commercially processing agricultural commodities; while Oregon’s law does not include such practices as exceptions to the general overtime rule. It is important for agricultural employers to consult their state’s overtime law to determine if their operation qualifies as exempt from overtime compensation.

For your convenience, Oregon’s statute pertaining to the overtime exemption for agricultural workers may be found here:  http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/653.html.  Additionally, you may find additional information provided by the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries about overtime requirements in agriculture here:  http://www.oregon.gov/BOLI/TA/T_FAQ_Taagric.shtml.

Washington’s law pertaining to the overtime exemption for agricultural workers may be found here:  http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=49.46&full=true#49.46.130.  You may find additional information from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries here:  http://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/Wages/Overtime/Exemptions/default.asp.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact me at tbernasek@dunncarney.com

By Tim Bernasek with assistance from Ashley White.

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