Legal FAQ for Farm Apprenticeships

NOFA-VT Farm Apprenticeship Program Resource Sheet
Defining Apprentices and Employees
Note: this information pertains to for-profit farms in Vermont. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Check with a lawyer regarding specific details of your farm labor situation, if you seek further clarification.

Q: What is a farm apprentice or intern?

A: In Vermont, a farm “apprentice” is almost always legally the same as an “employee.” The word “apprentice,” however, carries certain assumptions for many people and organizations, so it’s always a good idea to clarify why you are using that word. NOFA-VT encourages farmers to use the word “apprentice” to mean a farm employee, compensated fairly and legally, who receives additional preparatory technical training in farm skills and practices, while simultaneously performing farm work. They may or may not receive in-kind compensation of housing and food as part of their payment. Regardless of training opportunities with your farm, however, an apprentice or intern must receive payment amounting to at least the Federal minimum wage for each hour of labor performed on the farm unless a minimum wage and overtime exemption applies. The Department of Labor has strict guidelines about what may be legally considered an “intern.” Most farm apprentice programs will not meet these criteria, one of which is that “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” For more information about the DOL’s definition of internships, visit: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm.

Q: How should my farm compensate our apprentices?

A: Apprentices earn as much as an employee would earn, as there is typically no legal distinction between the two roles. This can be paid as wages and/or in-kind compensation (calculated at fair market value) totaling the legal value of their earned pay. Your farm must carefully document compensation when paying an apprentice with in-kind compensation, rather than cash wages. Any compensation, including in-kind and cash, is subject to payroll taxes, and is included within the calculation of your farm’s total gross wages paid out during the year and calendar quarter.

Q: What if I have…    
                 
A: The legal definition of this worker on a forprofit farm is typically...
an Apprentice: an Employee with farm or organizational definition regarding training; “an apprentice-like” employee. “Apprentice” can be a job title, but is not a legally-recognized farm worker classification in Vermont.

an Intern: an Employee. The term “intern” should not be used unless the work meets the 6 criteria listed here; A For-profit farm can consider this worker as “an apprentice-like” employee, but cannot typically classify a worker as an intern.

a Volunteer or Working Member: a “Volunteer-like” employee because no cash wages are paid. If this employee is compensated with education, housing, or food, however, the “volunteer-like” employee’s in-kind compensation will be used for accounting and tax purposes. The fair market value of any in-kind compensation, such as food, housing, training, or other non-cash compensation MUST be recorded because it IS subject to payroll taxes and MUST be included in the farm’s gross wages calculation.

an Employee: an Employee protected by federal and Vermont labor laws. An “Agricultural exemption” to minimum wage and overtime requirements exists, but only applies to Primary and Secondary agricultural work, which does not include processing and marketing tasks.
If the employee performs sales, food processing , or other work outside the definition of primary or secondary agricultural labor, this minimum wage and overtime exemption does NOT apply to that work. The farm must meet the minimum wage and overtime requirements for non-agricultural hours worked.
 

NOFA-VT recognizes that labor laws are confusing, seemingly contradictory, and often difficult to understand. Farms must keep in mind, however, there are carefully considered policies behind each of these laws. Your farm is a business, and is not off the radar when it comes to compliance with the state and federal laws.

For more information about your responsibilities as an employer, please consult the Vermont Department of Labor. The University of Vermont has published A Legal Guide to the Business of Farming in Vermont, which has a useful chapter on labor law.

If you have a specific question regarding your farm situation, we encourage you to contact the Vermont Department of Labor at 802.828.4000 or labor.vermont.gov, or consult with an attorney to help you comply with the laws. We will continue to explore this important issue, but as of now our expertise is limited and we cannot offer legal advice. For more information, visit the NOFA Vermont website at www.nofavt.org, or contact: Maddie Monty maddie@nofavt.ort or Rachel Fussell, rachel@nofavt.org, tel: www.nofavt.org, 802.434.4122.

Resource Links:
Legal Guide to the Business of Farming in Vermont 
VT Department of Labor
Legal Definition of “Intern”