California Governor Approves Farmworker Overtime Bill

New law will provide more daily and weekly overtime pay to California farmworkers

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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a controversial bill on Sept. 12 that will extend overtime pay to agricultural employees who work more than eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a workweek.

While previously exempted, farmworkers will have the same overtime protections as other employees in the state—instead of the modified protections they now receive.

Under the current law, farmworkers in the state are entitled to overtime pay after working 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a workweek. They are also exempt from federal overtime provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In support of the law, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez said it puts an end to almost 80 years of exclusion from overtime protections for farmworkers.

"Governor Brown corrected a historic wrong and set an example for other states to follow," Rodriguez said in a statement.

Employers that opposed the bill's passage, however, claimed it would result in higher costs for farmers and fewer scheduled hours for workers.

"Brown's signing of the farmworker overtime bill, AB 1066, will help California keep its place as one of the most expensive agricultural labor markets in the country," said Michael Kopp, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in Sacramento, Calif.

In April, Brown also approved S.B. 3, which "raises California's minimum wage to one of the highest in the country," he noted. "These two new laws will doubly impact California farmers' labor costs."

Implemented in Phases

It will be a big change for agricultural employers to pay overtime for hours they traditionally haven't had to pay overtime for, said Katherine Catlos, an attorney with Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck in San Francisco.

"Employers will need to amend their handbooks to reflect the changes," she said. "They may also want to assess workloads to see whether work can be done in a way that avoids paying overtime."

Catlos said agricultural employers should note that the overtime requirements will be implemented in stages.

Beginning in January 2019, farmworkers will be entitled to overtime pay after working 9.5 hours in a day and 55 hours in a workweek. The rule will be phased in gradually each year until January 2022. At that time, employers will need to pay overtime to farmworkers for hours worked beyond eight in a day and 40 in a workweek.

Businesses with fewer than 25 employees will have an additional three years to comply with the overtime rules.

Some aspects of the new law, however, will take effect earlier. Effective Jan. 1, 2017, farmworkers will no longer be exempt from certain state law requirements regarding wages, meal breaks and other working conditions.

In advance of the effective date, "California agricultural employers will need to ensure that their payroll systems are updated to reflect the new wage rates," Kopp said.

"Employers seeking to reduce labor expenses should train supervisors on the new daily and weekly overtime limits and how to effectively schedule employees to avoid time at the premium rates," he added. "They may also want to consider adopting an alternative work-week schedule to provide some relief from the lower daily hour caps."

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