Employee Rights Violations for Florida’s Rural Farm Workers
Farm workers in the United States provide an invaluable service to the economy. Without farm workers, people would not have the ready access to fresh food that they’ve come to expect each time they go to the grocery store. Unfortunately, farm workers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Dealing with heavy machinery and the oppressive Florida heat are only two of the common dangers. In addition to hazardous working conditions, many farm workers receive less than adequate compensation and experience neglect of other basic employee rights.
Dangers of Farm Work
Farm workers in Florida face many dangers, including:
- Heat related illnesses. Each year, thousands of farm workers become ill due to exposure to intense heat, and some even experience permanently disabling or fatal injuries. Workers exposed to hot conditions, especially Florida’s humidity, are at high risk for dehydration, heat stroke, and other negative conditions. It’s an employer’s responsibility to ensure adequate breaks and access to water, but many do not.
- According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, death and injury related to falls are a major job hazard for farm workers. In fact, between 2007 and 2011, 167 lost their lives in the agriculture sector from falling.
- Unsanitary conditions. Many farm workers work in conditions that lack potable drinking water, not to mention deplorable conditions for sanitation or handwashing. Farm workers have suffered heat stroke from lack of access to drinking water, urinary tract infections due to lack of appropriate toilet facilities, and serious communicable diseases from microbe and parasitic exposure.
- Pesticide exposure. Lastly, farm workers face risks of both long- and short-term illness resulting from exposure to pesticides. Employers must provide important safety precautions like access to personal protective equipment and access to water that has no contamination from pesticide spray.
Relevant Employee Laws
Farm workers are one of the most vulnerable groups of employees in our nation. Under federal law, workers must have access to certain labor protections that help ensure a safe working environment. However, the government cannot always adequately enforce these protections, leading to employee rights violations. Basic rights that many of us take for granted, such as the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay, are still a pervasive problem in rural farming communities throughout Florida and the nation.
In some cases, farm workers face specific exclusion from basic employee rights protections. They may experience lack of access to workers’ compensation, health insurance, and disability.
Relevant Case Law
Generally, farm worker violations may fall under the following applicable laws:
- The Field Sanitation Standard of 1928 holds that any agricultural establishment with 11 or more workers must have access to toilets, potable drinking water, and adequate hand washing stations. Additionally, employers must provide them adequate use of each and provide education about the importance of good hygiene practices.
- The Fair Labor and Standards Act, first enacted in 1938, gives most employees access to a minimum wage and requires overtime pay for most employees – those who work more than 40 hours a week must earn one and a half times their hourly wage for each hour worked past 40 hours, for example. The provision excluded farm workers until 1966, but now federal guidelines state that farm workers must have minimum wage guidelines. Unfortunately, they are not entitled to overtime pay.
Despite federal and state laws to assure worker safety, many farms continue to commit employee rights violations on Florida’s farms. Anyone who suspects a worker or employee violation should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.
Contact a Tampa Employment Rights Lawyer
If you believe you or someone you know is facing employee rights violations by their employer, either as a rural farm worker or otherwise, it is best you review your legal options with an experienced employment law attorney. If you’re currently employed in the state of Florida, contact our office today for a free case evaluation.