Farm Employment FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions on the rights and responsibilities for Iowa farm workers and farm employers.

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FAQ developed with Farm Commons

The information below does not replace legal advice of a qualified attorney, insurance coverage advice of an underwriter, or tax advice of an accountant. Contact information for the Federal Wage and Labor District office in Des Moines, IA, Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), and the State of Iowa Wage and Labor division is listed below. Please contact these regulatory agencies directly with specific questions about your situation.

The links to resources and the laws are provided as a convenience only. Please use caution if consulting the text of a law without the guidance of an attorney. Many laws contain terms with very specific legal definitions that may be quite different than an every day definition. Also, court interpretation of a law is just as important as the law itself. These links do not explain how courts have interpreted the law. Farm Commons developed this resource with Practical Farmers of Iowa. Farm Commons is a nonprofit law center dedicated to providing community-based farmers with the business legal resources they need. They are available to help answer legal questions at www.farmcommons.org or by phone at (608) 616-5319.

General wage questions

When is a farm required to pay at least the minimum wage to be legally compliant?

When is a farm required to pay at least the minimum wage to be legally compliant?

There are a few situations in which farm workers may be paid less than minimum wage. First, Iowa farmers may pay workers who perform agricultural labor less than minimum wage if they meet the federal “small farm” exemption. A “small farm” is one that used fewer than 500 “man-days” of labor during a calendar quarter in the previous year. A man-day is any day on which a worker performs agricultural labor for at least one hour. For example, on June 1, three workers perform agricultural labor for two hours before going home. In that situation, the farm incurred three man-days on June 1. If the farm has more than 500 man-days of labor in last year’s calendar quarter, he or she must pay minimum wage this year. Calendar quarters are January through March, April through June, and so forth. Please refer to a helpful chart in Appendix B of the FLAG publication “Farmers’ Guide to Farm Employees” for assistance in determining if a farm exceeds this exception. Read the legal code, 29 USC Section 213 at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/213

The exemption above only applies to agricultural labor. If a farm has workers perform non-agricultural labor, the farmer owes the workers minimum wage for the entire week in which the non-agricultural labor was performed, regardless of the farm’s man-days last year. “Agricultural labor” has a very specific legal definition and may not include all functions a farm or farmer may perform, such as farmers market sales, packaging product grown by a different farmer, and some construction or logging activities. An attorney can provide the best answer, but where consulting an attorney isn’t feasible, a farmer can always play it safe by paying the minimum wage.

If an Iowa farm exceeds the 500 man-day exception, the farm must pay workers the higher of the state or federal minimum wage. As of November 2012, Iowa and federal minimum wage rates are the same: $7.25 per hour.

There are other situations where Iowa farmers are not required to pay minimum wage. As one example, immediate family members are not owed minimum wage. Parents, spouses and children are immediate family; siblings and grandparents are not. Employees who are customarily paid by the piece have special minimum wage rules. For more information visit: http://www.dol.gov/whd/ag/ag_flsa.htm#.ULZW-tPjlEA. Please note that Iowa law may be different. Whichever law is more restrictive applies.

When is a farm required to provide workers with overtime pay?

When is a farm required to provide workers with overtime pay?

Iowa farmers do not have to pay workers who perform agricultural labor overtime regardless of the size of the farm. Read the code exempting agricultural laborers from overtime pay at 29 USC Section 213 at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/213

However, the exception only applies to agricultural labor, which is carefully defined and may or may not include things such as packaging products grown by another farmer, selling products at a farmers market or transporting vegetables across state lines. If a worker does non-agricultural work in a week, then overtime pay rules apply to all the work performed in that workweek: the employee earns one-and-a-half times his or her regular pay for the hours over 40 worked in that week. See the FLAG publication “Farmers’ Guide to Farm Employees” for more information or consult an attorney. To be safe, pay overtime to laborers.

What are some additional requirements if a farm pays wages in the form of food, housing or other in-kind services?

What are some additional requirements if a farm pays wages in the form of food, housing or other in-kind services?

An Iowa farmer may pay wages to employees in the form of food, housing or other facilities. However, this requires additional calculations and paperwork. A farmer may only charge so much rent as to cover the reasonable cost to him or her for providing the service, which is the cost of operation and maintenance of the facilities. However, if the fair market price of the food or fair rental value of the housing is less than the actual cost of maintenance and operation, only the lower amount may be deducted from wages. To summarize, providing food and housing cannot be not a source of profit for a farmer. For more information on determining the cost of food and housing, see Iowa Administrative Code 875-217.3(91D) and 875-217.4(91D).

Any deductions from cash wages for in-kind services must be agreed to, in writing, before employment begins. The farmer must track the value and deduction from cash wages on each pay stub provided to the employee. If a farmer does provide food or housing and that deduction brings the employee’s cash wage below the minimum wage, the farmer must keep records showing how he or she arrived at the reasonable cost of the food or housing. Also, he or she must account for the deductions by the week, even if the employee is paid every two weeks. For more information on the recordkeeping requirements for in-kind wages, see Iowa Administrative Code 875-216.27(91D).

See IRS Publication 15b, pages 16 and 17, for more information on the tax implications of in-kind compensation.

Interns, trainees or youth workers

Should interns be paid the minimum wage?

Should interns be paid the minimum wage?

If the internship position offered by a farmer does not meet the six criteria outlined by the US Department of Labor in Fact Sheet #71, a farmer should pay all interns the minimum wage. Fact Sheet #71 states that an intern works primarily for his or her own benefit, does not benefit the employer through his or her labors, and may actually impede the employer in accomplishing the productive work of the business in addition to other criteria. Meeting the six criteria will be difficult for most farms. To see the six criteria, visit www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf. For a more thorough explanation of how the criteria may apply to a farm, visit http://www.youngfarmers.org/practical/farming-and-the-law/.

What should farms know about wages in the form of a stipend rather than an hourly rate of pay?

What should farms know about wages in the form of a stipend rather than an hourly rate of pay?

If a farm is required to pay minimum wage to employees, then the stipend must equal at least the minimum wage for all the hours actually worked by the employee. If the farm is not required to pay minimum wage, then employer and employee may negotiate for a stipend that equals a lower rate of pay.

Is there an opportunity for farms to hire young workers at a rate less than the minimum wage during a training period?

Is there an opportunity for farms to hire young workers at a rate less than the minimum wage during a training period?

If a farm is obligated to pay minimum wage (because the farm exceeded the 500 man-day threshold in the year prior and workers only perform agricultural labor) then they may pay beginning workers who are also under 20 years old the Iowa starting wage of $6.25 per hour for the first 90 days. Please remember that the 500 man-day exemption only applies to agricultural labor. If employees do non-agricultural labor, regular minimum wage rules apply.

Where should farms go for more information about hiring individuals under the age of 18?

Where should farms go for more information about hiring individuals under the age of 18?

The regulations relating to child labor laws in agriculture are complex and are different than non-agriculture child labor laws. Different rules apply regarding the specific age of the young person, the amount and timing of hours worked, and whether the task is considered hazardous or not. Farms hiring youth workers and youth seeking farm employment should consult http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/childlabor102.pdf for federal and http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/agriemp2.htm#Iowa for Iowa law.

Volunteers

What should farms know about farm volunteers?

What should farms know about farm volunteers?

If individuals perform a service for a farm in exchange for anything of value (like food or housing) those individuals may be considered employees for the purposes of minimum wage, workers’ compensation and payroll taxes. Further, if a compensated volunteer is injured, a farm or commercial general liability policy may not cover that injury if the volunteer may be considered an employee. Any farm that works with volunteers should discuss its program in detail with its insurance agent. In some cases, a volunteer liability waiver may help address these concerns. For more information, consult the Model Volunteer Waiver and Guide and Model Worker Share Agreement and Guide at www.farmcommons.org.

Work crews, migrant workers or independent contractors

What is an independent contractor or a farm labor contractor, and how are they different?

What is an independent contractor or a farm labor contractor, and how are they different?

An independent contractor is a person who performs work for the farm but is not a farm employee. A person can only be considered an independent contractor if he/she has control over how he/she accomplishes his/her work, if the contractor supplies his/her own tools, and he/she generally provides the same service to other business owners. A farm labor contractor is an individual who supplies or recruits seasonal or migrant workers. Farm labor contractors must comply with additional federal laws, which are discussed below. See IRS Publication 15a, page 6 for more information on independent contractors and http://www.dol.gov/whd/mspa/index.htm#.ULZQ-9PjlEA for more on farm labor contractors.

Can my business save money by working with independent contractors?

Can my business save money by working with independent contractors?

Because independent contractors are not employees, the farmer does not owe payroll taxes or withhold wages on their behalf. Independent contractors also do not contribute to the 500 man-days that govern whether minimum wage is owed to workers. This can lead to cost savings. However, the penalties for misclassifying workers in order to avoid taxes are serious. A farm should only consider a worker an independent contractor if he/she meets the several requirements laid out by the IRS, including that independent contractors must have control over how they accomplish their work, they should supply their own tools and they should provide the same service to other business owners. See IRS Publication 15a, page 6 for more information.

What should farmers know about working with farm labor contractors?

What should farmers know about working with farm labor contractors?

If a farmer works with a farm labor contractor who supplies workers (and the farm exceeds the 500 man-day threshold), the farmer must make sure the contractor is registered with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. The contractor should have a certificate and you may call 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243) to verify the validity of the certificate. Additionally, the farmer must comply with several regulations relating to keeping employment records, vehicle safety standards and housing standards. For more information on these requirements, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/mspa/index.htm#.ULZQ-9PjlEA

Insurance, injuries and workers’ compensation

What should my farm consider regarding auto insurance?

What should my farm consider regarding auto insurance?

Although Iowa state law requires all drivers to carry liability insurance on their vehicles, do not assume that personal liability insurance will cover accidents that occur if an employee is using a farmer’s personal vehicle. A farm policy might not extend to hired employees in this scenario. Farmers should ask their agent about a policy often called “hired and non-owned” insurance. If an employee has an accident in his or her own vehicle while doing farm business, his or her insurance carrier may deny coverage. Employees and farmers should ask their insurance agent about coverage and look through their insurance policy (especially the section titled “exclusions”) for more information.

What is workers' compensation insurance and how is it different than liability insurance?

What is workers’ compensation insurance and how is it different than liability insurance?

Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that every state, including Iowa, requires that businesses purchase. Workers’ compensation covers employee injuries by paying doctor bills, lost wages and other costs related to the injury, along with death benefits to the family and money for lost appendages. Liability insurance often covers certain injuries, or injuries resulting from specific activities. Workers’ compensation, on the other hand, covers employees for all injuries they experience while working, no matter how the injuries occurred.

Although a farm will often also carry liability insurance, the two are not interchangeable. Most liability policies will specifically not cover any worker who should have been covered under a workers’ compensation policy. Last, workers’ compensation protects the employer from lawsuits. If a person who is not covered by workers’ compensation is injured on the farm, that person can sue the farmer for negligently causing the injury. If workers’ compensation is available, the individual must take the compensation provided by the insurance policy; he or she cannot also choose to sue the farmer for negligence.

When is a farm required to provide workers' compensation?

When is a farm required to provide workers’ compensation?

If a farm’s total cash payroll in the year prior exceeded $2,500, then the farm must buy workers’ compensation insurance for workers. Volunteers, worker shares and interns (who are not also in school) are not exempt from workers’ compensation. Any farm that exceeds the cash payroll threshold should include all workers who perform labor for the farm on their workers’ compensation policy. The penalties for not carrying workers’ compensation may include large fines and possible felony charges. You may find the best information on workers’ compensation insurance from your insurance agent. The state of Iowa provides more information here: http://www.iowaworkforce.org/wc/

Why buy workers' compensation if workers have personal health insurance?

Why buy workers’ compensation if workers have personal health insurance?

A farm is not excused from purchasing workers’ compensation for employees who have personal health insurance. If the farm exceeds the $2,500 payroll threshold it must purchase workers’ compensation. If a farm is not required to purchase workers’ compensation, the farm might still choose to buy workers’ compensation for any volunteers, interns and worker shares, or for the farmer him- or herself.

Why might a farm want to buy workers' compensation even if it is not required?

Why might a farm want to buy workers’ compensation even if it is not required?

Workers’ compensation can be a good deal for a farm, primarily because it prevents the injured person from bringing a negligence claim. For example, if a farm gets all work done with three volunteers who each work in exchange for vegetables and receive no cash, the farm may be under the $2,500 cash threshold and choose not to purchase workers’ compensation. However, if one of the volunteers is injured on the farm, that volunteer can sue the farmer for negligence. More likely, however, the volunteer’s personal health insurance company would choose to bring the lawsuit, even if the volunteer objects. If the farm’s liability insurance excludes coverage for negligence, the farm could be responsible for damages. Workers’ compensation prevents this.

Workers’ compensation may be a good deal for the farmer and his or her family as well. Workers’ compensation coverage is often better than what a personal health insurance policy provides because it can cover lost wages and provide a death benefit to the family.

How does a farm purchase workers' compensation insurance?

How does a farm purchase workers’ compensation insurance?

The best way to find a good insurance agent and company is to ask farmers with an operation similar to yours. If they had a good experience, call their agent. Most insurance companies offer workers’ compensation, and if they do not, they know someone who does.

After buying workers' compensation insurance, what does a farm do regarding injuries?

After buying workers’ compensation insurance, what does a farm do regarding injuries?

Your insurance agent will provide the necessary information on reporting a claim and the procedures to follow if an injury occurs. The agent should also provide you with the posters you are required to put up for all employees to view. To learn more on your own, Iowa State University Extension provides a thorough list of employment procedures, including posters at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c6-58.html.

Paperwork, taxes and wage withholding

Aside from wages, what additional expenses does a farm incur when it hires workers?

Aside from wages, what additional expenses does a farm incur when it hires workers?

Wages might be the biggest expense of hiring employees but there are other costs. When making the decision to hire, a farm should consider these extra costs.

An employer must contribute to Social Security and Medicare on behalf of the employee. The farm’s contributions to Social Security and Medicare are in addition to the withholding of some of the employee’s wages for his or her contribution to these funds. The farm may also have to pay Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA). The state of Iowa has similar withholding rules with its State Unemployment Insurance Tax (SUI) administered through Iowa Workforce Development. Local municipalities may have additional taxes or fees for new workers. Although it is not technically a tax, the farm should also factor in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance. The precise tax rate that will apply to a specific employee will vary and may apply to cash and non-cash wages. Farmers should call their local Small Business Administration office or municipal economic development office for details on state and local tax obligations. Information on federal tax rates for agricultural employers is located in IRS Publication 51: Agricultural Employer’s Tax Guide.

How should a farmer prepare to hire a worker for the first time?

How should a farmer prepare to hire a worker for the first time?

The very first step is to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is also referred to as a tax ID number. Businesses can apply for an EIN online at www.irs.gov or by calling 1-800-829-4933. You will also need to register with the state of Iowa at https://www.idr.iowa.gov/CBA/start.asp. These registration formalities enable your business to withhold taxes from employees. Then, the farm will collect one-time paperwork for each employee and set up a system to track hours so the farmer can quickly and easily prepare additional paperwork. These are the minimum preparatory steps. See http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c6-58.html for more information.

What paperwork should be completed when the farmer hires an employee?

What paperwork should be completed when the farmer hires an employee?

The following is an outline of the basic paperwork that should be completed for a new hire. This is only a basic outline. See http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c6-58.html for more information.

Name Agency Form Download Form Actions Required? More information
Federal Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate Internal Revenue Service W-4 Click Here Provide to employee to complete and sign within 15 days of start date; keep in file; use to compute employee’s withholding IRS Publication 51:
Click Here
State of Iowa Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate Iowa Department of Revenue Iowa W-4 Click Here Provide to employee to complete and sign within 15 days of start date; file Click Here
New Hire Reporting System Iowa Department of Human Services Click Here Register online
Employment Eligibility Verification U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-9 Click Here Keep on file for 10 years Click Here
IWD Application – Report to Determine Unemployment Insurance Liability Iowa Workforce Development 60-0126 (08-10) Click Here Fill out within 15 days of hiring a new employee, and annually as more employees are hired Click Here

After an employee is hired, what are the farm's ongoing reporting requirements?

After an employee is hired, what are the farm’s ongoing reporting requirements?

The following is a general outline of the ongoing paperwork considerations for employees regarding tax filings. This list is NOT exhaustive and other laws may have other ongoing paperwork requirements. Consult your Small Business Development office for more information on maintaining accurate accounting practices and complying with the many other requirements expected of every employer.

Farmers will need to withhold taxes from each pay period. See IRS Publication 51: Agricultural Employer’s Tax Guide for further information on how to calculate withholding. Withholdings are then deposited through an online system called the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System with the acronym EFTPS.

Farms will need to file periodic tax returns (monthly, quarterly or annually depending on the size of the business), annual tax returns and annual information on their employees’ wages. Both the federal government and the state of Iowa have tax and reporting requirements. The table below is a brief guide to the paperwork requirements. However, farmers should consult IRS Publication 51: Agricultural Employer’s Tax Guide for further information on federal taxes and the Farmer’s Guide to Iowa Taxes at http://www.iowa.gov/tax/educate/78507.html#wh.

Form Filing Frequency Where to Pay or get the form? Notes
943 – Quarterly Tax Return Quarterly Click Here
940 – Federal Unemployment Tax Return Annually Click Here
944 – Annual Tax Return Annually Click Here
W-2, Copies A & D – Employer’s copies Annually Click Here Deliver Copy A to Social Security Administration by March 31st, file Copy D for your records
W-2, Copies B & C – Employee’s copies Annually Click Here Deliver both Copies B and C to Employees by January 31st
State Income Tax Withholding Quarterly or Monthly Click Here Farms must file each quarter even if they don’t have any money withheld to deposit. File quarterly with a total of $0.00 if no funds are withheld to deposit.
65-5300 (07-10) – Employer’s Contribution & Payroll Report Quarterly or Monthly Click Here Only required if gross taxable wages paid in any calendar quarter exceeds $20,000

More Information

Other Resources

Other Resources

Checklist for Iowa Agricultural Employers
Iowa State University Extension
http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c6-58.html

Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service Publication 15 (Circular E) Employer’s Tax Guide http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15.pdf

IRS Publication 15a
Supplemental Tax Guide
www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15a.pdf

IRS Publication 51
Agricultural Employer’s Tax Guide
www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p51.pdf

 

Iowa Withholding Tax Guide http://www.iowa.gov/tax/forms/44001.pdf

Iowa Division of Labor Services, Division of Labor Administrative Rules
http://www.iowaworkforce.org/labor/laborecard/rules/index.htm
Iowa Division of Labor Services, Division of Labor Statutes
http://www.iowaworkforce.org/labor/laborecard/laws/index.htm

Labor Standards Information Guide for New and Small Businesses by the U.S. Department of Labor http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/NewSmallBus.pdf

The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing by Neil Hamilton. Drake Agricultural Law Center, 1999. Publisher: Drake University

 

Farmers’ Guide to Farm Employees: Federal and Minnesota Labor and Employment Law for Small-Scale Family Farms
(August 2012)
Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG), Minneapolis, MN
This guide is intended for family-run specialty crop (fruit and vegetable) operations that gross less than $500,000 per year and rely extensively on family labor. Many minority and immigrant farming families with deep agricultural traditions fall into this category.
http://www.flaginc.org/topics/pubs/MILEguide.pdf

Contact for more Information

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Contact for more Information

Drake Agricultural Law Center
Edward Cox
Staff Attorney
(515) 271-2205
[email protected]

Farm Commons
Rachel Armstrong
Executive Director and Attorney
(608) 616-5319

Iowa Division of Labor
1000 East Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319-0209
(515) 281-3606 or (800) JOB-IOWA

Iowa Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)
Joe Mullen, [email protected]
Safety and Health Topics: Agricultural Operations

Iowa State University Extension Beginning Farmer Center
John Baker
Staff Attorney
(515) 727-0656
[email protected]

Iowa Workforce Development
David Eklund
Regional Operations Manager
Unemployment Insurance Benefits Services
(515) 281-5792 (office)
(515) 229-4482 (cell)
(515) 281-9033 (fax)
[email protected]

Marco Adasme
[email protected]
Farm Workers (migrant, seasonal, and regular)
State Monitor Advocate
Iowa Workforce Development

U.S. Department of Labor
Wage & Hour Division
210 Walnut Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 284-4625