by Jim Sluyter & Jo Meller
All respondents to our survey offer some compensation
to their interns in the form of a stipend, housing, and/or board —
the latter often consisting of produce from the farm
Each form of compensation raises possible legal issues.
Most farmers supply their apprentices with housing, ranging from
accommodations in the farm household to a separate house with all the
amenities to a tent. The United States Department of Labor Employment
Standards Administration has formulated housing standards for migrant and
seasonal agricultural workers. A farmer who provides interns with housing
that does not meet these standards is technically in violation of the Migrant
and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
Some farmers offer a stipend, others offer only room and board in exchange
for labor and a learning experience. While federal minimum wage standards
in certain instances exempt seasonal labor on farms, state laws may not.
In New York, for example, state minimum wage statutes apply to interns.
Even though federal and state officials do not actively seek situations in
which interns voluntarily work under circumstances that are technically
illegal, a farmer who does not adhere to the statutes is vulnerable. If an
intern or, as in a case being litigated in Maryland, a neighbor with a dispute
files a complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency the farmer will
be open to prosecution.
Working closely with a college or university may help a farmer establish a
clear program of training, creating an obvious relationship between intern
and mentor as opposed to employee and employer. A farmer who has no
relationship with a learning institution might instead provide a written
agreement or contract covering what is offered to an intern and what is
expected from the intern in return. Although such an agreement clearly d
efines the responsibilities and expectations of each party, it does not
protect a farmer who is in violation of any federal or state laws.