Advisory: Change in MA overtime pay for agricultural work

Massachusetts Overtime Exemptions – What You Need to Know

If you’re a farmer hiring employees in Massachusetts, navigating the rules of the road can be challenging. This blog post highlights a recent court ruling in the Commonwealth that could affect when farmers pay their workers overtime.

Overtime laws require employers to pay one and a half times the regular pay rates when an employee works more than forty hours in a week. Both the federal and state overtime laws include exemptions to this requirement for certain types of work.

The Massachusetts overtime laws include an exemption for agricultural and farming workers. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a case that affects what is considered agricultural and farming work.

In the case of Arias-Villano v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc., the highest Massachusetts court determined that the agricultural exemption only applies to a very narrow type of agricultural work – the planting, raising, and harvesting of crops. The exemption does not apply to post-harvest activities, for example cleaning, sorting, and packaging produce, even if related to the farming operations.

Federal Overtime Exemption

The federal overtime exemption for agricultural workers is less restrictive than the Massachusetts exemption. However, the Court in Arias-Villano compared the federal definition of agriculture with the Massachusetts definition. Employers in Massachusetts are required to fulfill the requirements of the Massachusetts overtime requirements; the federal requirements are provided as a basis for the more restrictive definition used in Massachusetts.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act includes an exemption to the overtime pay requirements for agricultural workers, but agricultural work is defined to include both farming activities, including growing and harvesting crops, and certain post-harvest activities, including preparation for sale.

Specifically, the exemption includes “farming in all its branches … and any practices … performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations.” (FLSA Sec. 203(f)).

Work that is simply in conjunction with a farming operation qualifies for the agricultural overtime exemption, including post-harvest packing, sorting, and transportation. Food manufacturing, however, is not qualified for this exemption. (

Massachusetts Overtime Exemption

In contrast to the federal agricultural exemption, the Massachusetts overtime exemption defines agriculture as “labor on a farm and the growing and harvesting of agricultural, floricultural, and horticultural commodities.” (M.G.L. c. 151, §2).

The definition of agriculture under the Massachusetts overtime exemption does not include post-harvest activities, nor does it allow for the exemption of work that is incidental to farming operations, unlike the federal exemption.

Arias-Villano and What’s Changed

In Arias-Villano, a group of employees who worked at a bean sprout company sued for overtime pay. The company grows, harvests, packages, and distributes bean sprouts in a hydroponic operation. These employees were responsible for cleaning, sorting, weighing, and packaging the sprouts and cleaning the facility, but were not responsible for growing or harvesting the sprouts. The employer claimed that overtime pay was not applicable because the company was engaged in agricultural and farming activities.

However, the Court determined that the responsibilities of these employees (cleaning, sorting, weighing, and packaging sprouts) were not agricultural and farming activities under the Massachusetts overtime law. The Court determined that Massachusetts had intended to adopt a narrow exemption, and intentionally modified the definition of agriculture from that used in the federal statute.

So, after this decision, if an employee is engaged in post-harvest activities and is working more than forty hours per week, the employee must be paid overtime wages under the Massachusetts overtime laws. Activities such as the harvesting of crops, planting of seeds, and maintenance of a field would be considered exempt activities under the Massachusetts exemption. However, activities that are post-harvest, including cleaning, grading, sorting, packaging, and transporting agricultural commodities would not be exempted, and the employer would be required to pay the overtime rate.

The Court and the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards have not addressed if overtime must be paid if an employee works both in growing and harvesting (exempted) activities, as well as post-harvest (non-exempted) activities.

If you’re a farmer hiring workers in Massachusetts and you need help figuring out how employment laws apply to your operation, contact the Legal Food Hub at and check out our employment law resources here.

See how other states are dealing with Agricultural Employment Law:

New York may join 4 states requiring farmworker overtime pay

Requiring overtime on New York farms would raise labor costs 17%

Agriculture reacts to California’s new overtime laws

Lawsuit seeks to extend overtime pay for Washington farm workers

Liz Sharpe JD Candidate, 2020, Seton Hall University

Portland Press Herald Honors Legal Food Hub with Award

The Portland Press Herald announced that the Legal Food Hub is a 2019 winner of a Source Maine Sustainability Award. The Herald highlighted the work that Dave McConnell of Portland law firm Perkins Thompson performed for Crooked Face Creamery. The creamery’s owner, Amy Rowbottom, successfully trademarked her business’ name and logo with McConnell’s assistance.

You can read the full story here.

New Food Economy and Civil Eats Profile Legal Food Hub’s Impact

New Food Economy reported on the positive impact that the Legal Food Hub’s pro bono attorneys are having on farmers and food entrepreneurs in New England. Read the full story–including profiles of some of our great farmers, food businesses, and lawyers–here.

Civil Eats also addressed the role of lawyers in supporting farmers and the local food system. You can read the story here.

Legal Food Hub & Hogan Lovells Food Safety Webinars Available Online

The Legal Food Hub and Hogan Lovells teamed up in October to bring Hub participants and attorneys an update about the much-anticipated federal food safety rules. Joe Levitt, a partner at Hogan Lovells and a former director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and Elizabeth Fawell, counsel at Hogan Lovells, presented on two webinars detailing what food entrepreneurs and farmers should expect. The first webinar covered the Preventive Controls rule, which applies to most facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food. The second webinar discussed the Produce Safety rule, which establishes standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables. The webinars introduced the rules, the timeline for implementation, and exemptions that may be relevant to New England farmers and food entrepreneurs.

If you missed the webinars, you can watch them online anytime. Simply click the links below, follow the prompts to register, and you’ll be able to access the presentations.

Watch the webinars here:

“Bangor Daily News”

Bangor Daily News reports on the Maine Legal Food Hub’s 100th case since its launch in the state in late 2015, a milestone that Maine Legal Food Hub coordinator Phelps Turner said demonstrates a need for this type of pro-bono legal assistance for those in the farming and local food realms.

Lexington Farmers’ Market Receives Assistance in Seeking Non-Profit Status

Background:  The Lexington Farmers’ Market was founded in 2004 by three local residents looking to connect local farmers and food producers with residents in Lexington and nearby communities.  It’s an idea that has taken root and grown!  From May – October, thirty farmers and vendors meet in the historic center of Lexington to sell directly to an average of 700-800 customers a week in this “producer-only” market.  In a sign of its stability and success, the LFM also holds a Thanksgiving FEASTival and a Small Yet Mighty Winter Market hosted by a local school from January-March. The market was recently recognized by Clean Living Magazine as one of “America’s 50 Best Farmers’ Markets.”

Legal Need:  Facing a change in market leadership, the LFM Advisory Board knew that in order to provide organizational continuity, it was time to change the legal structure of the LFM.  Rosie Wall, Market Manager and sole proprietor at the time, sought legal assistance in taking the LFM from a sole proprietorship to a non-profit organization to ensure that the farmers’ market that had been built over many years would continue to serve the Lexington community.

The Relationship:  Legal Food Hub matched the LFM with attorneys John Lerner and Mary-Laura Greely at Pierce Atwood, who assisted in obtaining non-profit status for the market. The LFM is now overseen by a Board of Directors and run by a Market Manager staff member, allowing it to continue to provide healthy food and social connection to a large and growing community.

CLF’s Legal Food Hub Crosses 100-Case Mark, Leverages More Than Half Million in Legal Assistance

CLF launched its Legal Food Hub with one goal in mind: keeping New England’s food producers in business. A year and a half into this new program, we are delighted to announce that the Hub has crossed a major threshold in its mission to achieve this goal: we placed our 100th case and crossed the half million dollar mark for pro bono legal assistance leveraged through the program. The program has taken off like wildfire!

The Legal Food Hub provides pro bono legal assistance, workshops, and trainings to farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations in order to foster a sustainable, resilient, and just food system. We launched the Hub with a pilot in Massachusetts in 2014 and expanded to Maine in 2015. In the coming year, we anticipate expansion to Rhode Island, and have plans for the remaining New England states for the future. The image below hits the high points for our progress so far.



We are pleased that this program has been able to help more than 100 farm and food businesses get started, stay on solid footing, or avoid going out of business. We are deeply grateful to our partners in the legal community who have stepped up by offering their services for free to show support for the farmers and food entrepreneurs that sustain our communities across New England. We look forward to connecting more New England businesses to necessary legal services in the years to come.

To learn more about the Legal Food Hub or sign up to receive updates, please visit:

Maine Hub Reaches Hundreds of Farmers at Agricultural Trades Show

The Maine Legal Food Hub was proud to be part of the 75th Annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show held in January at the Augusta Civic Center. Hub network attorneys and other experts presented 10 workshops for farmers on topics ranging from choosing a legal structure for a farm business, to employment issues, food safety, and farm transition. Thirteen unique presenters connected with over 100 farmers, including many seasoned and aspiring producers.

Two additional sessions gave farmers an opportunity to meet one-on-one with Hub staff and network lawyers. The message to farmers: there are many ways to accomplish farm-related goals, but there are no off-the-shelf solutions. Every farm has unique assets and challenges, so it’s crucial to include an attorney as part of the farm’s advisory team.

In addition to workshops, Hub volunteers reached hundreds more farmers through the information at our exhibition table. Although many of the folks who stopped by had not heard about the project previously, the positive response from everyone we talked to was energizing! There’s clearly a need for the Hub’s core service: matching farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-system organizations with network lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance.


Legal Food Hub Participants Compete in Challenge Weekend

The weekend before Thanksgiving, ten teams competed to win the first ever Maine Farm, Fish, and Food Innovation Challenge. Two farms receiving assistance through the Legal Food Hub – The Farming Artists and Frinklepod Farm – pitched their creative and sustainable local farming businesses.  Both of these innovative businesses are growing healthful foods and working to scale up local production.

This high-energy weekend had three big goals. First, to transform Maine into the sustainable food production engine for New England… and beyond. Second, to incentivize new businesses that bring more value to local farmers and fishermen. And, finally, to craft food business models that open new ways of getting our food from farm and sea to plate, while baking in social and environmental values.

The Hub was proud to be part of this weekend. We helped teams as they workshopped their business ideas. One of the teams – the New Beet Market – is now receiving legal assistance through the Hub. The weekend illustrated the importance and value of the Legal Food Hub. More and more farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-related organizations working to grow a socially and environmentally responsible food system are receiving assistance through the Hub, getting trainings on critical legal issues, and connecting with myriad other individuals and organizations helping to grow our community-based food system in Maine.

Frinklepod Farm and the New Beet Market tied for second place. Read more about all the winners here. The Hub congratulates everyone that competed during the weekend. It proved a valuable experience for all teams to receive technical assistance and focus intensively on their businesses.

Heavenly Blix, Inc Explores Trademark Concerns

Background:  Heavenly Blix, Inc.  is a start-up fruit-based ice cream company located in Greenfield, MA, founded on the belief that desserts can be good for you. Started in early 2015, the company manufactures ice cream using bananas as the base ingredient and has a variety of flavors. Heavenly Blix is committed to sustainable operations, and is working to build partnerships with local grocers in the greater Boston area to collect bananas too ripe to be sold.

Legal Need:  For the first few months of operation, founder Giulia Siccardo was calling her ice cream company “Just Bananas.” However, when she learned that there was another food product on the market under the name “Just Bananas,” she knew it was time to consult with an intellectual property attorney.

The Relationship:  The Legal Food Hub matched Heavenly Blix with an attorney at the Greenfield, MA firm of Curtiss, Carey, Gates and Goodridge to explore and resolve any trademark issues. Ultimately, the legal advice led to a name change – Heavenly Blix—and allowed Giulia to avoid any potential legal battles over her company name.

Spritzal Cookie Company, LLC Consults with Attorney on Trademark Questions

Background:  Spritzal Cookie Company, LLC is a small-scale cookie company located in Norwell, MA using the original spritz cookie recipe of the owner’s great grandmother.  Relying on only five ingredients, including three locally-sourced ingredients, the cookies are sold at local farmers’ markets and through some wholesale, but the company was looking to expand the business due to its success.

Legal Need:  When the Spritzal Cookie Company decided to move into a new commercial kitchen space, they knew it was a good idea to consult with an attorney to discuss protecting the company name, logo, and recipes.

The Relationship:  The Legal Food Hub matched Spritzal Cookie Company, with a lawyer from Boston-based Wolf Greenfield, which specializes in Intellectual Property. The attorney was able to perform a trademark search and file for the company’s trademark.  The firm also created a non-disclosure agreement for the company to use when it moved to the shared kitchen space.