Agricultural workers have rights that are protected by law, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). Under this legislation, agricultural employees are required to have working conditions that are safe and free of health hazards. One would think that part of this would be routine breaks on the job, but although these are recommended, they are not mandated by law. If that time is unpaid, workers are in essence discouraged from taking a rest. The result is, unfortunately, promotion of an unsafe and unhealthy workplace.
The OSH Act falls under federal law, but states have the power to determine their own set of rules provided these adhere to the minimums set by the nation. States like Washington and California, for example, have chosen to not only adhere to the national guidelines but to boost their state regulations further to improve agricultural working conditions.
In the Washington State Supreme Court, the decision was upheld to maintain the agricultural rest break regulation, requiring agricultural employers to continue paying their workers through break times. California has similar laws on the books; their particular regulations about regarding health and safety in the workplace are covered by Cal/OSHA. For those states that do not address breaks in a State Plan, agricultural workers are subject to federal law; that means that if breaks are not written in the work agreement provided by your employer, they’re not guaranteed.
For those of us in office settings, we naturally take small breaks throughout the day – not including lunch – to give ourselves a moment away from whatever we’re working on and return refreshed. However, for agricultural workers rest periods or breaks take on a greater priority. Agricultural workers are considered high-risk workers: not simply due to the job tasks performed but also because of the environment in which they work. Rest breaks could mean the difference between life and death to prevent heat illness or recovery from pesticide exposure in treated fields.
During occupational health and safety trainings, AFOP Health & Safety Programs recommends that agricultural workers always take breaks during their workdays to prevent health hazards. Moreover, we encourage agricultural employers to institute breaks as routine practice for a safe and healthy workplace.
We know; often times the driving force at work is the bottom line. But, no job is worth paying for with your life.
To find out about your state’s minimum paid rest period requirements in the private sector click here.