The FLSA Agricultural Exemption

The agricultural exemption is a rarely discussed blue collar exemption to the FLSA that is nonetheless critically important to many Louisiana businesses.  The Fair Labor Standards Act is a product of the 1930s, when agricultural workers made up a significant part of the workforce — about 21% of the US population in 1930 worked on farms.  By 2012, that figure had dropped to 1.5%, a proportion so low that the Federal Reserve has since stopped keeping track. Nonetheless, farmers remain an important part of the Louisiana economy and have long relied on Section 13(b)(13) of the FLSA, exempts agricultural workers from overtime.

The agricultural exemption is quite broad, as it exempts “any employee employed in agriculture” from overtime pay, although they still must be paid a minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked.  (There is a more limited exemption that also applies to minimum wage, but it mostly applies to immediate family members and employees of extremely small farms).  “Agriculture” is then defined in Section 3 of the FLSA as including:

[F]arming in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodities… the raising of livestock, bees, fur-bearing animals, or poultry, and any practices (including any forestry or lumbering operations) performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations, including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market.

However, the agricultural exemption is not limitless, and it does not include activities that are only indirectly related to farming.  As the Supreme Court has held, a worker in a fertilizer factory is not employed in agriculture, even though his work is related to and necessary for a properly functioning farm.  In another case, a court held that a business which did not own any land, but repurchased fruit and resold it to canneries was not work performed “by a farmer on a farm,” even though its employees were responsible for actually picking and gathering the fruits.

Similarly, many modern farms may include secondary business operations that are not directly related to agriculture, such as shipping or storing goods other than agricultural products. Employees working on these non-agricultural endeavors are entitled to overtime. Employers should seriously consider whether each individual employee’s job duties are directly and clearly related to farming before applying the agricultural exemption across the board.

If you have any questions about the blue collar exemptions, overtime law, or the Fair Labor Standards Act in general, call me today at (504) 267-0777 or email Charles Stiegler today.