Agriculture is big business in California. Many of the individuals who work in the industry come to the state under the H-2A visa program. Unfortunately, not all of the growers who employ them follow the federal wage and hour laws. In fact, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor recently conducted an investigation into allegations of violations of federal laws and ended up assessing fines against certain growers, recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay owed to workers.
Specifically, 443 workers will receive their share of approximately $422,152 in back wages recovered by the agency. In addition, the growers found in violation of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act were assessed fines of approximately $85,168 worth of civil penalties. Unpaid wages were not the only violations found, however.
Some growers failed to provide safe housing, transportation and working conditions for their employees. Others failed to hire U.S. citizens. Some workers were not paid the federally mandated minimum wage or did not receive their paychecks at all. Without federal intervention, the violations may have gone unreported. Many workers in California under the H-2A visa program hesitate to come forward for fear of being fired or deported.
Agricultural employers are not exempt from federal law, including when it comes to wage and hour issues. Workers who are not receiving the pay they are owed or are working in less than desirable conditions have the right to come forward regardless of their immigration status. Anyone with questions regarding these and other issues could take their concerns to an employment law attorney to determine the best course of action moving forward.