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Migrant Workers Subject to FLSA Protections

March 24, 2014
Western Michigan Federal Courts

In Perez v. Howes LLC the district court was once again faced with addressing the legal obligations of farmers who use seasonal migrant workers to harvest their crops. The Honorable Gordon J. Quist joined the vast majority of district court judges who, upon the facts of the cases before them, concluded that migrant workers are employees subject to the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), without regards to contractual attempts by the farmer to categorize the migrant workers as independent contractors.

Being subject to the FLSA has a number of significant implications for farmers who employ migrant workers. For example, the FLSA requires employers to keep records documenting the hours that each employee works daily and weekly. This can be somewhat challenging for farmers who employ migrant workers, but is a statutory requirement that cannot be avoided, as hours recorded are necessary to ensure that the employee is being paid minimum wage.

The district court in Howes also found that the defendant violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("MSPA") in two ways.  First, the district court found that because an employee of the defendant was responsible for repairing migrant housing units for use, the defendant was responsible under the MSPA for ensuring that those housing units complied with applicable health and safety standards, despite the fact that the housing units were not actually owned by the defendant.

The district court also concluded that the defendant improperly interfered with attempts by federal Wage and Hour Inspectors ("WHI") to interview migrant workers concerning the conditions of their employment. The MSPA provides that an individual may not "unlawfully resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with any official . . . assigned to perform an investigation." In this case, the court found that the defendant unlawfully interfered with the WHI interviews by not allowing the WHIs to interview the migrant workers privately.

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