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Delmarva Farmer Columnists

 

What jobs are exempt from minimum wage criteria? (Aug. 26, 2014)

Ag Law

By Kim Pardoe Manuelides, Saul Ewing LLP, Partner

Those who are employed in agriculture are generally thought to be exempt from Maryland’s Wage Payment and Collection Law and such workers therefore are not required to be paid the state’s minimum wage or overtime.
Further, many activities that are closely connected to farming operations, such as canning, freezing, packing or first processing of perishable or seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables, horticultural commodities, poultry or seafood, are also exempt.
As more farm families seek to diversify their operations and engage in other income producing activities, it is important to understand what activities are and what activities are not exempt by the act.
A recent decision by Maryland’s highest court highlights the risk of making the wrong legal call with respect to a covered employee.
In a case known as Muriel Peters v. Early Healthcare Giver, Inc., a home healthcare worker sued her former employer for violation of the state Wage Payment and Collection Law, maintaining that she should have been paid overtime during her employment.
The employer claimed that it thought the worker was exempt from the state overtime requirements because of the nature of the healthcare worker’s employment fell within a federal statutory exemption.
The trial court and later the appellate courts disagreed. Not only was the federal exemption insufficient to overcome the Maryland overtime law, but the employer’s belief that the exemption applied was not enough to avoid the penalty provisions of the act.
As a result, the employer may not have to pay the former employee, not simply the overtime that it failed to pay her during her employment, but up to three times the amount that it failed to pay her.
Virginia and Delaware both exempt farm and agricultural laborers generally from their minimum wage and overtime statutes.
Maryland’s law, however, is more restrictive.
A close look at the Maryland agriculture exemption shows that it applies to three general categories.
The first is for small farms, those who used no more than 500 agricultural-worker days during each quarter of the preceding calendar year.
An agricultural worker day is any day in which a worker is employed in agriculture for at least one hour.
The second exemption is for those who are engaged in the range production of livestock.
The third is for those who are employed as hand-harvest laborers paid on a piece-rate basis in a region that has customarily paid on that basis.
The third exemption is further limited to those who either commute daily to the farm and were employed in agriculture less than 13 weeks or to those who are under the age of 17 and are working on their family’s farm.
Children and other immediate family members of the employer are also exempt from the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, which effectively excludes most family farms from the operation of the statute, unless they employ non-family members.
In order to qualify as an immediate family member, the person must be the employer’s parent, spouse, child, brother, sister, grandchild, or grandparent and must reside with the employer.
“Immediate family” does not include anyone living outside the employer’s household, except the employer’s parent, spouse, or child.
Those family farms hiring non-family members must either fall within one of the other three exempt categories or pay the state’s minimum wage and pay overtime.
As family farms become increasingly diversified in their operations it will be critical to keep these distinctions in mind.
Simply because Delaware and Virginia’s agricultural exemption is more broad than Maryland’s does not mean that diversifying operations in those states will retain full statutory exemption for their non-agriculture operations.
Under these statutes employers are required to maintain records of their employees hours and the compensation that was paid for those hours.
Failing to maintain proper records and failure to pay the proper wages may lead to employer facing considerable liability to both the employee and the state.
Be certain of your operation’s status before you receive notice that a claim has been brought against you, and if you decide to modify your business operation, revisit your exempt/non-exempt status with an attorney.
(Editor’s note: Kim (Pardoe) Manuelides is a partner in the law firm of Saul Ewing, LLP, who focusses her practice on solving legal issues and concerns of the agricultural community.)

Consider planting conservation buffers (Aug. 26, 2014)

Keeping the Farm

By Carol Hollingsworth, Public Affairs Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maryland

The word “buffer” may evoke an image of a safety net, a filter or an area of shrubs and trees. In the landscape context, that’s pretty much what it is.
A buffer, when defined by a conservationist at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a small strip of land of trees, shrubs and other plants.
This strip provides protection from things like wind or pollutants entering waterways and plays a crucial role as a safety net for the environment.
Conservation buffers trap sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides and prevent them from entering streams and waterways.
To do this, buffers act like natural filters, removing nutrients or sediment that runs off the field, keeping them from entering waterways like the streams and rivers that drain into the Chesapeake Bay.
Recognizing the importance of buffers to Bay restoration, this year USDA pledged up to $5 million to state and local partnerships in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for accelerating tree planting through conservation buffers.
Improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay is a top priority of President Obama’s Administration’s Executive Order for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and USDA’s voluntary conservation programs can help.
Voluntary conservation practices made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill enable NRCS, USDA’s Farm Service Agency and conservation partners’ to work with farmers who are interested in taking steps to ensure their on-farm land use practices help conserve the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
USDA reports that more than 7,000 miles of riparian forest buffers have been established by private landowners in the Chesapeake Bay states since 1996.
In Maryland, the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program offers additional incentives to encourage landowners to implement practices that will help reduce sediment and nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay and will improve wildlife habitat.
CREP is seeking to enroll highly erodible cropland into grass, shrubs, and/or tree plantings, establish riparian buffer habitat, provide water and wetland habitat, and restore habitat for declining species.
FSA administers CREP. NRCS and cooperating agencies are providing technical assistance to help landowners plan and implement CREP practices.
Conservation buffers provide many benefits.
They trap and decrease levels of nutrients, pesticides and sediment in soil and water resources.
Buffers slow water runoff and increase the amount of water that enters the ground, recharging our aquifers and protecting communities downstream from flooding.
During the winter months, buffers help trap snow and cut down on soil erosion in areas with strong winds. They also can protect livestock and wildlife from harsh weather, shield buildings from wind damage and reduce noise and odor coming from a farm.
Buffers also provide benefits for local wildlife.
They provide food and shelter for many wildlife species like quail, rabbit and other fun-to-watch species while serving as corridor connectors that enable wildlife to move safely from one habitat area to another.
A conservation buffer’s trees and shrubs shade streams and cool the water, making the water a better home for plants and animals. Without trees and shade, streams become warmer, lowering populations of aquatic species.
Also, buffer trees and shrubs stabilize streams by holding the earth in place with their roots. In addition to their vital services, buffers simply beautify the landscape, enhancing the natural aesthetics of a farm or ranch.
But buffers aren’t just for rural farm areas — they’re helpful in suburbs and cities alike. Buffers in these areas can yield the same benefits, especially along waterways and other ecologically sensitive areas.
Whether you live in the country or a big city, buffers will help improve the environment near you. Equip your property with buffers if you can, and encourage your local community officials to do the same, protecting streams and other key landscapes.
USDA Farm Bill Programs offer a variety of conservation buffers that include grass, shrub/vegetative and riparian forest (tree) buffers. Both NRCS and FSA offer financial and technical assistance for buffer-related conservation practices.
Stop by the NRCS office at your local USDA Agricultural Service Center or visit NRCS at www.nrcs.usda.gov to learn more about the benefits of conservation buffers.