Massachusetts Court Has Determined that Employees Exempt from Federal Overtime Laws May Not Always Be Exempt from State Law

Fact Sheet #12: Agricultural Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) addresses agriculture employers that encompasses farming and all divisions performed by a farmer along with the duties on a farm or in conjunction to operating a farm.

Federal law states

Virtually all employees engaged in agriculture are covered by the Act in that they produce goods for interstate commerce. There are, however, some exemptions which exempt certain employees from the minimum wage provisions, the overtime pay provisions, or both.

Meaning any employee who is performing agricultural type of job duties would be exempt from overtime pay or even minimum wage.

However, in the Arias-Villano & others v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc., the plaintiffs argued their job duties did not fall under the federal guidelines because the job duties these employees performed were not within the scope of farming or agriculture. The plaintiffs stated they were not involved in planting, caring or harvesting of the bean sprouts, so their job duties would not be considered farming or agriculture in nature.

The bean sprout plant was designed to be an automated hydroponic facility; the design was to eliminate basic type of agricultural jobs duties. The plaintiffs in this case, were hired to strictly do post-agriculturally type jobs; such as cleaning, inspecting, sorting, weighing, packing or disposing of waste products.

The plaintiffs felt because they were not hired to do typical agricultural type of job duties that were not associated with farming and because of this, they would be entitled to overtime for any hours worked beyond the 40 hours per week.

The plaintiffs Arias-Villano filed a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Superior Court, alleging that his employer violated the Massachusetts Overtime Law. The Overtime Law generally requires employers to pay employees at a rate of time and one-half their regular rate of pay for every hour worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

The Superior Court sided with the defended and agreed that workers fell under the agricultural exemption and would not be entitled to overtime. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court review the appeal and did not agree with final decision and overruled the case.

The Supreme Judicial Court went on to say that, although the original agricultural exemption considered by the Massachusetts legislature was modeled on the FLSA (and encompassed post-harvesting activities), “the statute that was ultimately enacted contained a much more narrow definition of ‘agricultural and farm work.” Therefore, the Supreme Judicial Court declined to adopt the FLSA definition.

Going forward employers in Massachusetts will have to mindful that post-harvesting actives are not incorporated in agricultural and farming according to the Massachusetts Overtime Law, the law itself only has a narrow definition on the job duties provided.

Takeaways whenever state provides limited insight it is best not to assume the state law will automatically follow federal law and as a rule whenever the laws are conflicting, the employee is entitled to the more generous benefits provided under the different parts of each law; federal or state.