The pending New York legislation to change farm labor laws (not yet signed by the Governor) will likely affect farm laborers’ eligibility for disability insurance and Paid Family Leave insurance. Farm laborers were exempt from these two requirements under the old laws but that will likely change on January 1, 2020 if the bill is signed into law before then. This situation is causing some confusion for farm employers at this time so I wanted to attempt to clarify.
At present, and continuing through the end of 2019, farm laborers are exempt from the state’s disability insurance and Paid Family Leave requirements. Agricultural laborers or farm laborers are defined in New York State’s Labor Law as “employees that perform duties in connection with the operation, management, conservation, improvement, or maintenance of a farm and its tools and equipment. Farm-specific duties include, but are not limited to, cultivating the soil; raising or harvesting any agricultural or horticultural commodity, including the raising, shearing, feeding, caring for, training, and management of livestock, bees, poultry, and fur-bearing animals, and wildlife; and handling, planting, drying, packing, packaging, processing, freezing, grading, storing, or delivering to storage or to market or to a carrier for transportation to market, any agricultural or horticultural commodity.” In other words, farm “laborers” are those employees who are directly engaged in agricultural production. Other farm employees, such as retail farm stand employees, are not currently exempt and should have disability and Paid Family Leave already. Employers can provide these benefits to all of their employees, including farm laborers if they wish, but they are not required to do so.
Beginning January 1, 2020
If the farm labor bill is signed into law, farm laborers will no longer be exempt from certain benefits including the requirements for disability insurance and Paid Family Leave. Farm employers will need to work with a state-authorized insurance carrier to get disability insurance in place for employees that includes a rider for Paid Family Leave. A list of New York- approved insurance companies offering paid family leave riders can be found here. Both of these insurance benefits allow for some employee payroll deductions to fund premiums, in different ways. Disability insurance premiums can be paid in part by the employee (one half of one percent of gross wages up to 60 cents per week); the balance of the premium is paid by the employer. Premiums for Paid Family Leave insurance can be fully funded by employees, or the employer can elect to pay for the benefits.
For employers with part-time or seasonal employees it may be possible to obtain a waiver of paid family leave coverage if certain employees will not work enough to meet the minimum eligibility requirements. That is:
- if they regularly work less than 20 hours per week and will not work 175 days in a year, or
- if they regularly work 20 or more hours per week, but won’t be in employment for 26 consecutive weeks.
The farm employer must provide the waiver form to all employees who qualify for one. (The waiver is found at https://paidfamilyleave.ny.gov/pfl-waiver-form.)
More information on Paid Family Leave is found at www.paidfamilyleave.ny.gov. Forms in eight languages are also found here.
By Richard Stup, Cornell University. Permission granted to repost, quote, and reprint with author attribution.
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