The FLSA Cotton and Sugarcane Exemption

The last of the blue collar exemptions in this series is perhaps the most obscure : the cotton and sugarcane exemption, found in Section 13(h) of the FLSA.  Most wage-and-hour attorneys have never heard of this exemption — and before writing this series, I was one of them.  This exemption was important in 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, but its relevance has waned.  The few court cases analyzing the exemption date from the 1940s or 1950s.  Nevertheless, cotton ginning and sugarcane refining were historically two of Louisiana’s major industrial activities, and still play an important part in our rural economy, so I thought it fitting to conclude the series here.

The cotton and sugarcane exemption applies only to individuals who work in the processing, storing, or handling of cotton, sugarcane, or sugar beets.  It does not apply to farmworkers actually growing or harvesting the crops, although they may be exempt under the more common agricultural exemption. The cotton and sugarcane exemption is unusual because it applies only to workers who work for a “period or periods of not more than fourteen workweeks in the aggregate in any calendar year to any employee.”  Employees who work year-round, or even for 1/2 of the year, are not eligible for this exemption.  Finally, it is not a complete exemption to overtime, as workers must still be paid time and a half if they work more than 10 hours in a day or more than 48 hours in a week.

While the cotton and sugarcane exemption is essentially a historical footnote, the same is not true of the other blue collar exemptions.  The motor carrier exemption and the agricultural exemption, among others, affect tens of thousands of workers across the country.  If you have any questions about the blue collar exemptions listed above, or the FLSA and wage and hour law in general, call me today at (504) 267-0777 or email Charles Stiegler today.