CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A court of appeals recently ruled that farm workers involved in the growing of bait worms are exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). After receiving a complaint from farm workers, the Department of Labor investigated the Silver Bait worm farm’s labor practices and ultimately determined that the farm employees were not entitled to overtime. The Silver Bait worm farm grows and packages bait worms to sell directly to retailers. Farm workers place baby worms onto beds, feed the worms, and harvest them for delivery to bait shops. The workers then filed a private suit in federal district court alleging that they were entitled to overtime.
FLSA requires employers to pay covered employees overtime for time worked in excess of forty hours per workweek. However, there are several exempted employees. One of those exemptions is for an employee working in agriculture. Under FLSA, agriculture includes everything from planting crops to beekeeping. It is divided into two categories: primary and secondary.
FLSA defines primary agriculture as farming in all its branches, while secondary agriculture includes practices that are necessary for primary agriculture, but are considered non-farming activities. The Department of Labor considers harvesting of certain horticultural commodities such as fruits, vegetables, tobacco, pine straw, Christmas trees, and other greenhouse products may qualify for the exemption. However, the gathering of wild commodities such as mosses, wild rice, or trapping of wild animals do not meet the exemption.
The court of appeals in this case recognized that worms are not considered traditional farm animals, but the worms’ intended use as bait does not deprive them of their agricultural character. Silver Bait housed the worms, fed them, monitored their growth, and eventually harvested them. Based on this, the court held that the worm farming operation fit under the agricultural exemption and the workers did not have a FLSA claim.
Any employer in agriculture who did not use more than 500 days of agricultural labor in any calendar quarter of the preceding calendar year is exempt from FLSA for the current calendar year. A day is covered when an employee performs agricultural work for at least one hour. Those agricultural employees who are immediate family members of their employer and those principally engaged on the range in the production of livestock are also exempted. Additionally local hand laborers who commute daily from their permanent residence are paid on a piece rate basis in traditionally piece-rated occupations, and were engaged in agriculture less than thirteen weeks during the preceding calendar year.
Agricultural workers may or may not be covered by the minimum wage and overtime protections of FLSA. You should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page if you are an agricultural worker and you feel that you are being deprived of minimum wage. Our top-rated team of wage lawyers will evaluate your situation to determine your best course of action. We will also determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit against your employer. There are strict time limitations for filing, so it is important that you call our experienced attorneys today.