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Jobs and Employment
A Guide to Farmworker Rights in New Jersey

Introduction

This article explains your rights as a farmworker in New Jersey and tells you how to protect them. It was created by the Workers Legal Rights and Farmworker Projects of Legal Services of New Jersey.

Our projects provide free legal services to low-income people regardless of their immigration status. We also provide free workshops to help educate workers about their rights. We may be able to help when you have problems with:

  • Wages, work hours, or deductions from your pay
  • Recruiters and crewleaders
  • Housing
  • Health and safety at work (including pesticides)
  • Discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin
  • Other work issues
  • Immigration

If you have any questions, you can call our toll-free number: 1-888-576-5529. All calls are free and confidential. We have interpreters and can provide services in many languages, including Spanish. You can wait until the end of the season to call, if that is more convenient.

Regardless of your immigration status, you have the right to all protections described in this article.

Not an agricultural worker?

If you are not a farmworker, but instead work in construction, restaurants, landscaping, or other jobs, different laws may apply to you. For example, you probably have the right to overtime (time and a half). We have a free booklet that explains your rights. Please call our office at 1-888-576-5529.

Important: The information in this booklet is general legal information; it is not legal advice about your specific case. It cannot replace the need for you to consult an attorney. Certain exceptions may apply to your case. You may have additional rights that are not described here.

Note: In this booklet, we use the term “employer” many times. Your employer has many responsibilities under the law, such as making sure you receive your wages, live in decent housing, and work in a safe environment.

Under the law, more than one person or company can be your employer. For example, if you are working on a farm, the farmer, crewleader, and the person who hired you could all have legal responsibilities. Please feel free to contact Legal Services of New Jersey at 1-888-576-5529 with any questions.

Wages

You must be paid at least the minimum wage for every hour you work.

  • In New Jersey, the minimum wage is $8.44 per hour.

  • If your employer agreed to pay you more than the minimum wage, she must pay you the amount that she promised.

  • Even if you promised to work for less than the minimum wage, your employer still has to pay it!

You have a right to the New Jersey minimum wage of $8.44 per hour, regardless of your immigration status.

  • A piece rate is when you are paid for each unit of work that you do. For example, if you are paid for each box of blueberries that you pick, then you are paid by a piece rate.

    If you are paid by a piece rate, your employer must still pay you at least $8.44 for each hour you work. This means that each day you must make an average of at least $8.44 an hour.

If your employer isn’t keeping records of each hour that you work, you are probably not being paid the minimum wage.

  • If you are paid a weekly salary, your employer must still pay you at least $8.44 for each hour you work. This means that each week you must make an average of at least $8.44 an hour.

  • If you work in a state other than New Jersey, you must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. If you work in a state where the minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, you must be paid that higher amount. This is the case in New Jersey, where the minimum wage is $8.44 per hour.

Right to a Pay Receipt

When you are paid, your employer must provide a pay stub or paper showing the hours you worked and a description of everything that was deducted from your pay.

Deductions from Your Pay
 

  • Your employer is only allowed to deduct (subtract) state and federal taxes, food, and housing from your wages, if they follow certain rules.

  • If your employer deducts money from your pay for food or housing, they are not allowed to make a profit from it. For example, if your meal costs the employer only $1.50 to prepare, the deduction can only be for $1.50, not a higher amount.

  • Your employer may not force you to buy anything from them or anyone else.

Wages: Examples and Explanations

To see whether you are earning the minimum wage, divide your pay by the number of hours you worked. If that number is less than $8.44, your employer isn’t paying you the minimum wage.

Example 1: Salary

Marcella is working in New Jersey, packing peaches. She works for eight hours per day, 40 hours per week. Her employer pays her a weekly salary of $250.00, so she is earning $6.25 per hour.

$250.00 ÷ 40 hours = $6.25 per hour

She is earning less than minimum wage! Her employer must pay her at least $8.44 for each hour she works.

$8.44 x 40 hours = $337.60

Marcella must be paid at least $337.60 per week, and at least $67.52 per eight-hour day.

$8.44 x 8 hours per day = $67.52

Example 2: Piece Rate

Oscar is working in New Jersey picking blueberries. He gets paid $1.00 for every box he picks. He picked 237 boxes last week, so his employer paid him $237.00. Oscar worked seven hours per day, 35 hours per week. His employer is only paying him $6.77 per hour—less than the minimum wage!

$237.00 ÷ 35 hours = $6.77 per hour

Even though he is paid at a piece rate, which is allowed, Oscar must always be paid at least $8.44 per hour.

$8.44 x 35 hours = $295.40

Oscar must be paid at least $295.40 per week, and at least $59.08 per seven-hour day.

$8.44 x 7 hours per day = $59.08

Information About Your Job

As an agricultural worker, you have the rights listed below in every state in the United States.

Your employer must give you information about your job at the time you are hired. This is often before you arrive at the farm.

You have the right to receive the following information in writing:

Where Am I Going?

You have the right to specific information about the location of your job, including the farm’s name and address.

How Much Will I Make?

You have the right to know how much you are going to be paid. This information must be specific. If you are going to be paid based on how much you pick (piece rate), then you must be told the rate you will be paid.

What Am I Hired to Do?

You have the right to know the kind of crops you will pick or the kind of tasks you will do at work.

How Long Will the Job Last?

You have the right to know how long your job will last. This can be stated in days, weeks, or months.

Where Will I Live?

If your employer is going to provide you with housing, you have a right to know. In New Jersey, your employer cannot charge you for housing. In other states, if you are charged for housing, you must be told how much you will be charged.

You have a right to this information when you are hired, not when you arrive at the farm. The information should be given to you in writing, in the language you speak.

Travel Expenses

Did someone recruit you to work in New Jersey? Did they recruit you from another state or country? If so, you might have the right to be paid for your travel expenses to New Jersey.

For example, if your hometown is in Florida, and you are hired in Florida, your employer must pay for your trip to New Jersey. Call us if your employer didn’t pay for these expenses and we will try to help you now or when the season ends.

Health and Safety 

There are laws that give all farmworkers the right to work and live in a safe place. As an agricultural worker, you have these rights in every state in the United States.

Water
 

  • Your employer must give you cool, clean, and fresh water in a disposable cup while you are working. If the employer does not provide cool and fresh water, workers may not drink sufficient water during work. In addition, heat stress related illnesses and deaths of farmworkers occur nationally on a regular basis, so these protections are very important. In particular, the first heat wave of the summer, when workers have not adjusted to conditions, has been shown to be particularly dangerous for worker health.

  • This water must be close to where you are working so that you have easy access to the water.

Drinking Water May Save Your Life!

Farmworkers can get sick from doing hard work in the heat and humidity. To stay healthy:

  • Drink lots of cool water.
  • Take lots of rest breaks in the shade.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing.
  • Perform the heaviest, hardest work early in the day.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include: Headache, dizziness, extreme thirst, nausea, heavy sweating, general weakness. If you have these symptoms, stop working and find some shade. Drink water and cool off. If heat exhaustion is ignored, it can quickly turn into heat stroke, which is much more serious.

Heat Stroke Symptoms Include: Dry pale skin, hot red skin, confusion, seizures, collapsing/passing out.

If someone has heat exhaustion symptoms, get emergency help IMMEDIATELY. Move the person to a shaded area and try to cool them down by removing heavy clothing and cooling their skin with wet cloths.

Bathrooms

  • Your employer must give you access to a toilet and sink within 1/4 of a mile from where you are working.

  • There must be one toilet for every 20 workers.

  • Your employer must let you use the bathroom whenever you need to.

  • Your employer can’t charge you for bathroom use or water.

Pesticides

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill insects, weeds, or diseases that harm crops. They are poisonous and exposure to them can cause serious health problems for you and those you live with.

Your employer must tell you:

  • The names of the pesticides used

  • When the pesticides will be used

  • Where the pesticides will be used, with a map of the farm showing the fields, and when pesticides will be used on each crop

  • When it will be safe to go back to the area where the pesticide was applied

  • How to protect yourself against pesticides

  • The name, address, and telephone number of the closest emergency care medical centers.

Housing

If your employer provides you with housing, it must meet the requirements of national and state laws. It must meet these standards whether or not you pay for the housing.

Your housing must have:

  • Windows with screens, and the windows must open and close

  • Hot and cold drinking water

  • A place to wash dishes and clothes

  • A bathroom, which must be clean

  • At least one sink for every 15 people in the housing unit

  • At least one shower for every 10 people, with hot water and a working drain

  • Separate bedrooms and bathrooms for men and women

  • A first aid site for emergencies.

Your housing must not:

  • Be located in a place that floods, near a swamp, near farm animals, or in an area infested by insects

  • Have beds directly on the floor

  • Have several beds stacked on top of each other or placed very close to each other.

Injuries at Work

In New Jersey if you are injured while working, you have the right to medical treatment and possibly other benefits.

Your employer must:

  • Carry workers’ compensation insurance and tell their insurance company about your accident

  • Send you to a doctor associated with its insurance plan and pay for your treatment (after you report the injury to your employer).

If your employer doesn’t provide you medical treatment, you should get medical treatment on your own. Depending on how bad your injury is, you may also have a right to other benefits, including temporary disability benefits for the time you cannot work.

If you get hurt at work:

  • Tell your employer as soon as possible. Don’t wait more than 90 days from the date of the injury.

  • Get medical treatment immediately.

  • You usually have two years from the date of the injury to file a petition against your employer to get treatment and benefits.

Take Action!

Tips on How to Protect Your Rights

  1. Understand your rights

    Sometimes your employer or others may tell you information about the law that is not true. To make sure that your employer is not breaking the law, it is important that you understand your legal rights in the field and in your housing. You can begin by carefully reviewing this guide. Then, if you have questions, contact Legal Services of New Jersey at 1-888-576-5529.

  2. Keep good records

    It is very important to keep good records. You can use this information later to make sure your employer pays you all the money they owe and, if they don’t, to collect your money.

    You and your co-workers should always write down:
    • Dates that you worked

    • Time you started work each day

    • Time you stopped work each day

    • Amount of time for any breaks you took

    • Number of pieces (if you were paid the piece rate)

    • Address and description of where you did the work

    • Description of the work you did

    • Names of your boss and supervisors

    • License plate information for the vehicle your boss and supervisors drive

    • Type of vehicle your boss and supervisors drive

    • Names, phone numbers, and addresses of other workers

    • Total pay received

    • Anything your boss made you pay for or took from your earnings to pay for (such as housing, gloves, or transportation)

    • Total pay owed.

    Even after a job is over, save all of your pay stubs, pay envelopes, or other proof of your work and pay. It is also important to save all your notes about the work for at least three years! At the end of this booklet, there is a place to record information about your work. This will help you keep and organize this important information!

  3. Seek legal advice and representation

    Since each situation is different, if you think you have a problem, it may be helpful to talk to a lawyer. Some of the things a lawyer can do include research and explain the law, tell you how the law affects your situation, contact your employer, make an anonymous complaint to a government agency, or file a case in court against your employer. A lawyer can also help you to do many of these things yourself. A lawyer may also be able to help you to find other kinds of assistance, such as housing, food, or medical care.

    When you work with a lawyer, everything you tell them is confidential, so they would never contact your employer–or anyone else–without your permission.

    Be careful of “notarios” who offer to help you with legal problems in exchange for money. In the United States, notarios do not have any special training and are not lawyers. Even if you have a lawyer, make sure they have experience in the kind of legal problems they are helping you with.

    If you would like to talk to a lawyer, you can call our office for free at 1-888-576-5529. All calls are free and confidential. We have interpreters and can provide services in many languages, including Spanish. If we do not answer the phone, after you hear the tone please leave a message with your phone number and name and we will call you back. You can wait until the end of the season to call, if that is more convenient.

  4. File a complaint with a government agency or in court

    The government agencies listed below are responsible for helping workers. You can contact these agencies directly for assistance.

    • New Jersey Department of Labor: 1-609-292-2305.

    • United States Department of Labor: 1-866-487-9243.

    You could also file a complaint in court against the employer. It may be a good idea to talk our office or another community advocate to help you decide which steps to take.

  5. Join with others to protect workers’ rights

    Workers in some areas have decided to join together to protect their rights. You have a right to join with workers and others to improve working conditions and enforce your rights.
    2/14/2015