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Worm Farm Workers Don't Get Overtime Pay, Court Rules

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 21, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're a worm farmer, there's some good news for you. Under a decision by the Sixth Circuit, you don't have to pay overtime to your workers if they're growing worms.

Bruno Durant, the president of Silver Bait, emigrated from his native France to the United States to grow worms. After raising worms on Georgia, he purchased land in Tennessee and later established Silver Bait on the land he bought. He hired workers, many of whom worked than the FLSA full-time standard of 40 hours per week.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employers pay workers overtime for time worked in excess of 40 hours. However, a number of exceptions to this rule exist under 29 USC. secs. 207, 213. One of these exceptions is for "farming in all its branches," generally known as the "agricultural exception."

Worm Farming Is ... Farming

Obviously, at issue is whether worm farming rightfully falls under the definition of farming as intended by the drafters of the Act. The court was not persuaded by the Plaintiff's argument that agriculture -- and thus, the agriculture exemption for overtime pay -- applied only to farming operations that produced only certain types of farm animals such as chicken, cattle or hogs.

The Sixth Circuit Panel ruled eventually for the worms. The court relied on examples from the Department of Labor and eventually was convinced that the ordinary meaning of the word "agriculture" encompassed worm farming even though such activities were not explicitly enumerated in the language. Further, "there is little to distinguish Silver Bait from a traditional farm other than the unfamiliarity of warm farming," the 6th Circuit said. With that, worm farming is not squarely within the ambit of agriculture and is exempted under 29 sec. 213(b)(12).

Knowing your Employment Labor Laws

So there's one legal issue that's been settled for Stare Decisis: Worm farming really is farming under the eyes of the federal government.

Employers in the agricultural industry can breathe a little easier, but should take this case as a lesson. Even though it has been established that worm farming is an agricultural activity, state laws still introduce an added complexity to labor employment. Additionally, the agricultural exception to overtime is highly technical is a pitfall for many unwary growers. Practice due diligence and, if necessary, seek competent counsel.

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