Many farmers in New York have been grumbling about the push to pay employees overtime after they have worked a 40-hour week. The grumbling might only get worse now since the overtime threshold is getting closer to lowering, as it has been decided that every two years — between 2022 and 2032 — the overtime threshold will decrease another four hours until the normal work week is 40 hours, not the current 60.
There are mixed reactions within New York’s diverse set of agricultural businesses about this lowering threshold. As everyone knows, agriculture does not (and cannot) work on the 9-5 schedule alone.
For a long time, farms have been a family affair; working on a farm was a lifestyle rather than a career. This meant that when you worked on a farm you were signing up for 12-hour days, seven days a week. Farmers didn’t need time off to spend with their family since they were working alongside them every day.
This narrative is rapidly changing. Farm businesses are much different than they used to be, so it’s time for us to adapt to a new set of standards.
One of the main drivers of employee turnover in agriculture is the long hours and hard work. How many people do you know who have left a job simply because they were feeling burnt out, or they missed spending time with their families? Wouldn’t it be nice for us to retain the employees who do a really good job?
Having grown up on a farm myself, I understand the difficulties when it comes to finding good help — it’s not easy. But when we only advertise long hours and hard work … oh yeah, and no weekends or holidays off … you aren’t attracting a very large pool.
We will always need people to milk cows and feed the critters over the holidays, we will always be a 24/7 industry, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer a shorter work week.
Agriculture is transitioning from a lifestyle to a career choice, and we should no longer expect anyone to work more than 60 hours just because they are choosing agriculture as a career.
The positive thing about farms being a 24/7 workplace is that we can offer more hours to people who want them. For a good employee who tries their best and does good work, most people would gladly pay time and a half for a few hours a week.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, New York is the most recent of only six states who are implementing overtime pay after 40 hours.
For many farmers out there it feels like there’s no good way to go about it. Paying every employee 20 or more hours of overtime every week is going to hurt the bank, but even thinking about adding more people to the team is the reason for a headache.
Luckily for farmers in New York, there will be subsidies to reimburse them for extra time paid to employees, which has been put in place to help farmers stay afloat while they transition into 40-hour work weeks for employees.
There is also a push to help farms find human resource help. There are now grants in place to help farmers pay for human resource services and programs, which will make hiring and retaining employees much easier.
By offering a shorter work week, hopefully we will attract more people who want to work on the farm. And hey, if other states can do it, so can more of us!
Elizabeth Maslyn is a born-and-raised dairy farmer from Upstate New York. Her passion for agriculture has driven her to share the stories of farmers with all consumers, and promote agriculture in everything she does. She works hard to increase food literacy in her community, and wants to share the stories of her local farmers.