However, and this is an extremely important condition, the workers must be “completely relieved of duty” during the entire meal break. If a DOL Wage and Hour investigator determines that lunch time is being deducted and workers are continuing to work through their break, the employer will be issued a record keeping violation and the lunch time will be added back into the compensable time totals.
Many employers offer their farm workers transportation from home or a central pick-up point to the work site. As long as transportation in the employer’s vehicle is not required, time spent traveling to and from a work site is not compensable. But any time during the work day spent traveling from one farm or block to another is compensable.
One final issue regarding compensable time concerns workers who arrive early, sometimes hours before the posted start time. If these workers volunteer or are allowed to do work activities, those hours count.
The word “volunteer” does not exist within a Wage and Hour investigator’s vocabulary. If it is the worker’s choice to show up early, then the early arrival time is not compensable as long as the employer or manager prevents workers from performing work-related tasks.
For workers who are paid an hourly rate, their gross pay for the week or day is simply the promised hourly rate multiplied by the total number of compensable hours.
In this case every hour of waiting time is being paid by the employer. For workers who are paid by the piece, paying for waiting time is not always the case.
As long as a piece-rate worker’s average hourly gross earnings (number of pieces multiplied by the piece rate, then divided by the total number of compensable hours) is above the minimum wage, no additional payments need to be made for waiting time.
Seeking outside help may pay
Keeping track of the correct number of daily compensable hours for seasonal and migrant farm workers is a regulatory requirement and one that has drawn close scrutiny by DOL Wage and Hour investigators.
Individual farm situations may require the farm owners or managers to seek advice from legal experts in this specific area of wage and hour regulations.
Private council may prove to be very cost-effective if potential problems can be identified and corrected before DOL Wage and Hour audits, and/or workers seek their own private council if they feel that they are not being adequately compensated.