Beginning in Homestead, Fla., in March, the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has been conducting an agricultural labor law compliance sweep up the East Coast of America, already recovering $670,770 in back wages and assessing $128,850 in fines.

The sweep so far has netted 20 farms, packing houses and other agricultural operations. Many of the violations have been for paying below the minimum wage and for failing to pay for overtime work. In addition to fines, WHD agents say some firms may face civil or criminal legal action.

"The agricultural industry employs a large number of low-wage and vulnerable workers who are susceptible to exploitation and disparate treatment. These workers include minors, migrant workers, seasonal employees and temporary non-immigrant farmworkers,” said Oliver Peebles III, southeast regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. “Employers in the agricultural industry cannot escape their legal responsibilities to provide safe working conditions and accurate compensation to employees for all hours of their hard work. In addition, we are ensuring that employers who follow the rules are not placed at a competitive disadvantage because of a few employers who break the law.”

As part of the sweep, the WHD is also conducting community outreach to inform domestic, seasonal and migrant workers of their rights under federal labor laws.

The applicable laws include the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act's Sanitation Standard.

Whether you're in agriculture or another business, the FLSA applies to every company with workers. To better understand the law and comply with its provisions, get yourself a copy of Personnel Concepts' handy FLSA Compliance Program.