Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign a measure that would make farm workers eligible for overtime pay after only eight hours per day, instead of the current ten hours. Lobbyists for agricultural workers successfully killed an earlier, similar proposal, but Assembly Bill 1066 passed both the Assembly and the House by relatively wide margins. The measure basically phases out the current ten-hour exemption, so by 2022, all agricultural workers, even those who work at facilities with 25 employees or fewer, will be entitled to overtime after eight hours worked in a day; larger farms must comply by 2019.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) is AB 1066’s prior sponsor. There are fourteen co-sponsors in the Assembly and five in the Senate.

The Effect of California AB 1066

Some agricultural workers have fought AB 1066 out of fear that farm owners will reduce their hours during peak harvest time to avoid paying employees overtime. These workers argue that their fears are legitimate due to California’s minimum increasing to $15 per hour over the next several years. Plus, the rising labor costs could potentially force employers to either lower payroll costs or make cuts in other areas such as health insurance and benefits policies.

But sponsors of AB 1066 say that the reason for the change is that an agricultural exemption currently in Section 554 of the California Labor Code no longer makes sense. They argue that mechanization and automation, especially on larger farms, have largely reduced the “back-breaking” and “physically demanding” nature of the work, so it is proper to treat agricultural employees like all other manufacturing workers.

This issue has been on the legislative agenda for several years. In 2010, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure. In this session, Assembly Bill 2757, which Assemblywoman Gonzalez also authored, faced considerable opposition in the Assembly. A last-minute amendment that extended the phase-in period swayed some votes, but the measure still failed by a razor-thin 38-35 margin.

Additional Changes to Overtime Laws in California

Farmers in California are not the only business owners who must deal with new overtime requirements. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor significantly re-worked overtime law for the first time in several decades.

The key difference is that the exemption for administrative, executive, and professional employees essentially doubled, moving from $455 to $913 per week. Going forward, these thresholds will be automatically updated once every three years, to more accurately reflect the 40th percentile of full-time salary workers’ earnings in the lowest-earning Census area. The new rule goes into effect December 1, 2016.

Classification is also an issue under the new rule. The DOL has very specific definitions for what constitutes professional, administrative, and executive work, and the Wage and Hour Division strictly enforces these rules. Although this is an emerging area of law, it is generally illegal to classify employees as independent contractors for the purpose of avoiding overtime payments or short-circuiting collective bargaining ability.

Basically, both employees and employers have a choice. Salaried workers have consistent incomes and have some additional legal protections; for example, in most cases, if a salaried employee works any portion of a day, it is considered a full day for compensation purposes. However, during peak periods, hourly workers can earn considerably higher pay. This is especially true in a jurisdiction like California, where workers become eligible for overtime after eight hours worked in a day as opposed to forty hours worked in a week.

California AB 1066: For Further Reading

  • California AB 1066: Full Bill Text
  • California AB 1066: Bill Analysis
  • California farm workers could see overtime expanded in the next decade after historic Assembly vote via
  • Overtime bill a precedent. Victory for farm workers. via

If you feel your employer is violating California overtime laws, rest assured that federal and state labor laws can protect your rights. Contact the Los Angeles employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz to discuss your options today.