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- Employment Law Guide

Wages and Hours Worked: Worker Protections in Agriculture

Updated: September 2009


Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA),
as amended
(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/0001.mspa.htm) (29 CFR Part 500(http://www.dol.gov/cgi-bin/leave-dol.asp?exiturl=http://s.dol.gov/7G&exitTitle=www.ecfr.gov&fedpage=yes))

Who is Covered

The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) is administered by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The Act safeguards most migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in their interactions with farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, agricultural associations, and providers of migrant housing. However, some farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, agricultural associations, and providers of migrant housing are exempt from the MSPA under limited circumstances.


Basic Provisions/Requirements

The MSPA requires farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and agricultural associations, who recruit, solicit, hire, employ, furnish, transport, or house agricultural workers, as well as providers of migrant housing, to meet certain minimum requirements in their dealings with migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. These requirements include:

  • Farm labor contractor registration: Farm labor contractors (and any employee who performs farm labor contracting functions) must register with the Department of Labor before recruiting, soliciting, hiring, employing, furnishing, or transporting any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker. Agricultural employers and associations (and their employees) need not register as farm labor contractors.

    An agricultural employer or association using the services of a farm labor contractor must first verify the registration status of the farm labor contractor. This process includes determining that the contractor is properly authorized for all activities he or she will undertake. To verify registration status call 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).
     
  • Employment relationship: Under certain circumstances, the Department of Labor may determine that an agricultural employer or association that uses the services of a farm labor contractor is a joint employer of the agricultural workers furnished by the farm labor contractor. In joint employment situations, the agricultural employer or association is equally responsible with the farm labor contractor for compliance with employment-related MSPA obligations, such as the proper payment of wages.
     
  • Disclosure: Employers must provide each migrant and seasonal day-haul worker with a written disclosure at the time of recruitment that describes the terms and conditions of his or her employment. When offering employment, the employer must provide such disclosure to all seasonal workers upon request. The disclosure must be written in the worker's language. The employer must also post in a conspicuous place at the job site a poster setting forth the rights and protections that the MSPA affords workers (See notices and posters below). A housing provider must post or present to each worker a statement of the terms and conditions of occupancy.
     
  • Wages, supplies, and working arrangements: Each person employing agricultural workers must pay all wages owed when due. Farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and associations are prohibited from requiring workers to purchase goods or services solely from such contractor, employer, or association, or any person acting as an agent for such a person. In addition, no farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, or association may violate the terms of the working arrangement without adequate justification.
     
  • Safety and health of housing: Each person who owns or controls housing provided to migrant agricultural workers must ensure that the facility complies with the Federal and state safety and health standards covering that housing. Migrant housing may not be occupied until it has been inspected and certified to meet these safety and health standards. The certification of occupancy must be posted at the site.
     
  • Transportation safety: Each vehicle used to transport migrant or seasonal agricultural workers must be properly insured and operated by a properly licensed driver. Each such vehicle must also meet Federal and state safety standards.
     
  • Employer protections: Farm labor contractors must comply with the terms of any written agreement they make with an agricultural employer or association.
     
  • Enforcement: The Wage and Hour Division enforces the MSPA. During an MSPA investigation, Wage and Hour investigators may enter and inspect premises (including vehicles and housing), review and transcribe payroll and other records, and interview employers and employees.

Employee Rights

The MSPA provides migrant agricultural workers and day-haul seasonal agricultural workers the right to receive written notice of the terms and conditions of their employment when recruited. In addition, it provides seasonal workers the right to receive such notification upon the worker's request. The MSPA also requires employers of migrants and seasonal agricultural workers to adhere to the disclosed terms and conditions of employment. Certain exemptions and exclusions apply to these provisions.

The MSPA gives migrant and seasonal agricultural workers the right to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division, file a private lawsuit under the Act (or cause a complaint or lawsuit to be filed), or testify or cooperate with an investigation or lawsuit in other ways without being intimidated, threatened, restrained, coerced, blacklisted, discharged, or discriminated against in any manner.


Recordkeeping, Reporting, Notices and Posters


Notices and Posters

Posters. Each farm labor contractor, agricultural employer and agricultural association, that is subject to the MSPA and that employs any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker is required to post a poster explaining the rights and protections for workers required under the MSPA, such as the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) poster.

The poster must be posted in a conspicuous place at each place of employment. There are English/Spanish(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/mspaensp.htm), English/Haitian(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/mspaencr.htm), English/Vietnamese,(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/mspaenViet.pdf) and English/Hmong(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/mspaenHmong.pdf) versions of the poster, all of which can be printed from the Web.

There are no size requirements for these posters. Employers are encouraged to make the poster available in languages other than English.

Notice for terms and conditions of housing. Each person or organization that owns or controls a facility or real property used for housing migrant workers must comply with Federal and state safety and health standards. A written statement of the terms and conditions of occupancy must be posted at the housing site where it can be seen or be given to the workers. The written statement must include the following information on the terms and conditions of occupancy of such housing:

  • The name and address of the farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, or agricultural association providing the housing
  • The name and address of the individual in charge of the housing
  • The mailing address and phone number where persons living in the housing facility may be reached
  • Who may live at the housing facility
  • The charges to be made for housing
  • The meals to be provided and the charges to be made for them
  • The charges for utilities
  • Any other charges or conditions of occupancy

If the terms and conditions of occupancy are posted, the statement must be displayed and maintained during the entire period of occupancy. If the terms and conditions of occupancy are provided to the worker through a statement (rather than through a posting), this statement must be provided to the worker prior to occupancy. Employers may use a DOL form, WH Form 521 – Housing Terms and Conditions (PDF)(http://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/wh521.pdf), to satisfy this requirement.

Notice of employment terms. Each farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, and agricultural association that recruits any migrant agricultural worker must provide the following information at the time of recruitment, while seasonal workers must be given the information when they are offered work, in writing, if requested. The information required to be disclosed includes the following information:

  • The place of employment (with specifics, such as the name and address of the employer or the association)
  • The wage rates (including piece rates) to be paid
  • The crops and kinds of activities on which the worker may be employed
  • The period of employment
  • The transportation, housing, and any other employee benefits to be provided, if any, and any costs to be charged for each
  • Whether state workers' compensation or state unemployment insurance is provided

Note: If workers' compensation is provided, this information must include the name of the workers' compensation insurance carrier, the name of the policyholder, the name and telephone number of each person who must be notified of an injury or death, and the time period within which such notice must be given.  This requirement in the section above may be satisfied by giving the worker a photocopy of any workers' compensation notice required by state law.

Payroll statements for workers. In addition to making records of payroll information (see Recordkeeping section below), the farm labor contractor, agricultural employer and agricultural association must provide each migrant or seasonal agricultural worker a written statement of this information. This information must be provided at the time of payment for each pay period which must be no less often than every two weeks (or semi-monthly). In addition to the payroll information specified below, such statement shall also include the employer's name, address, and employer identification number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service. In the case of a worker who is jointly employed, only one of the two joint employers needs to provide a written statement to the workers.

Responsibilities of Joint Employers. Agricultural employers who use the services of a farm labor contractor are almost always in a situation of joint employment with the contractor in regard to the employees.  Joint employment means that an individual is employed by two or more persons at the same time. Where a joint employment relationship exists, each of the employers must ensure that the employee receives all employment-related rights granted by the MSPA, such as accurate and timely disclosure of the terms and conditions of employment, written payroll records, and payment of wages when due.  If either party fails to comply with the law both parties may be held liable.  For more detail on joint employment see the Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #12: Agricultural Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs12.pdf) and Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #35: Joint Employment and Independent Contractors Under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs35.pdf).

Field Sanitation Standards.  In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s field sanitation standards require covered agricultural establishments to provide toilets, potable drinking water, and hand-washing facilities to hand-laborers in the field; to provide each employee reasonable use of the above; and to inform each employee of the importance of good hygiene practices. For more information on the field sanitation standards see the Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #51: Field Sanitation Standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act(http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs51.pdf).


Recordkeeping

Payroll records. Each farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, and agricultural association that employs migrant or seasonal agricultural workers must make and keep the following records for each worker:

  • Name, permanent address, and Social Security number
  • Basis on which wages are paid
  • Number of piecework units earned, if paid on a piecework basis
  • Number of hours worked
  • Total pay period earnings
  • Specific sums withheld and the purpose of each sum withheld
  • Net pay

Each farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, and agricultural association that employs migrant or seasonal agricultural workers must keep all payroll records for each worker for a period of three years. When a farm labor contractor employs migrant or seasonal agricultural workers for an agricultural employer, agricultural association, or other farm labor contractor, the employer must also provide these payroll records for each employee. The person receiving these records must maintain them for a period of three years.


Reporting

Certificate of registration. Any person acting as a farm labor contractor is required first to obtain a Certificate of Registration authorizing each such activity. For more detail see the Instructions for Form WH-530: Application for a Farm Labor Contractor or Farm Labor Contractor Employee Certificate of Registration, Registration Requirements Under the MSPA(http://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/fts_wh530.htm). The phrase "farm labor contracting activity" means recruiting, soliciting, hiring, employing, furnishing, or transporting any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker.

Any employee of a registered farm labor contractor who performs farm labor contracting activities solely on behalf of such contractor, and who is not an independent contractor, must obtain a Farm Labor Contractor Employee Certificate of Registration authorizing each such activity. The employee's certificate must show the name of the farm labor contractor for whom the activities are to be performed. The contractor whose name appears on the employee's certificate must hold a valid certificate of registration covering the entire period shown on the employee's certificate.


Penalties/Sanctions

Violations of the MSPA may result in civil money penalties, back wage assessments, and revocations of certificates of registration. Violations may also result in civil or criminal actions instituted by the Department of Labor against any person found in violation of the Act. Civil money penalties up to $1,000 may be assessed for each violation. Criminal conviction for first time violators may result in one year in prison and a $1,000 fine; repeat convictions can result in up to three years in prison and $10,000 in fines. In addition, individuals whose MSPA rights have been violated may seek civil money damages in Federal court.


Relation to State, Local, and Other Federal Laws

MSPA supplements any state or local laws. Compliance with MSPA does not excuse violation of applicable state laws or regulations.


Compliance Assistance Available

The Department of Labor provides employers, workers and others with clear and easy-to-access information and assistance on how to comply with the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Compliance assistance related to the Act - including fact sheets, explanatory brochures, and regulatory and interpretative materials - is available on the Compliance Assistance “By Law”(http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-msawpa.htm) Web page. Information about farm labor contractor applications is available from the nearest State Workforce Agency office at 1-866-4USADOL (1-866-487-2365) or Wage and Hour Division office(http://www.dol.gov/whd/america2.htm).


DOL Contacts

Wage and Hour Division(http://www.dol.gov/whd/)
Contact WHD(http://www.dol.gov/whd/contactform.asp)
Tel: 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243); TTY: 1-877-889-5627

The Employment Law Guide is offered as a public resource. It does not create new legal obligations and it is not a substitute for the U.S. Code, Federal Register, and Code of Federal Regulations as the official sources of applicable law. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is complete and accurate as of the time of publication, and this will continue. Later versions of this Guide will be offered at www.dol.gov/compliance or by calling our Toll-Free Help Line at 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365) (1-866-487-2365).

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