These resources are intended to help agricultural business owners better assist employees in their employ.

New Employee Information (PDF) The "New Employee Information Sheet" can be completed by the farm producer or manager and given to each new employee to ensure the new employee gets a thorough overview of general information about work expectations, housing, compensation and more. This should be translated into Spanish for Spanish-speaking employees.

Emergency Info Card (PDF) A wallet-sized Emergency Information Card that should be filled out by the employer to provide basic emergency information for each new employee.

Income Documentation (PDF) Income documentation letters for a previous or current employee. This letter can often be used for income documentation as required for most sliding fee health clinics.

Food List / Lista de Comida (PDF) A comprehensive list of common foods in English and Spanish that can be used with employees to help communicate food needs.

Simple Record System: Calving Record | Milk Quality Examples of how to set up a simple record system for use by Spanish-speaking employees to record calving information or milk quality.

Wage and Benefit Claim Form - Spanish version **Note: this is current as of version WH-1 (11/09): The Vermont Department of Labor wage and benefit claim form, translated to Spanish. Visit the Vermont Department of Labor website for the most up-to-date version.

Safety

Even though there may be a language barrier between between producer and Latino employees, making training challenging, workers can often be shown how to do many tasks through demonstration. However, it is important to note that key information about why it is necessary to complete a task in a certain way cannot be communicated through demonstration. Educating the workforce is key and - as an employee's on-the-job knowledge improves - it often leads to increased job performance and satifaction.

The following resources focus on dairy production, and may be used to help bridge the language gap between the employer and employees working on dairy farms. When choosing which resources to use, be sure to know the literacy level of the employees as a small percentage of the Latino workers in Vermont have little to no formal schooling.

Udder Health and Milk Quality / La Salud de la Ubre y la Calidad de Leche

Cow Health / La Salud de la Vaca

Calving and Calf Care / El Parto y Cuidado de la Becerra

Fresh Cows / La Vaca Fresca

Heats / Detección de Celo

Dry Cows / La Vaca Seca

Miscellaneous / Misceláneo

More Resources

Legal and Compliance Issues

Injuries and deaths on farms are rarely caused by accidents. They are generally the result of unintentional and completely preventable causes.

The word "accident" suggests that mishaps are caused by forces entirely beyond our control. On the farm, however, this is rarely true. A ladder patched one too many times, an unfastened seat belt, workers riding to the field on a tractor fender -- when these situations lead to death, it's not accidental.

Thousands of farmers are injured or killed every year in preventable incidents. Agriculture remains one of the most dangerous occupations in America, when it could be one of the safest because the vast majority of injuries and deaths in agriculture are preventable.

The next time you read about someone being killed or injured on a farm, ask yourself, "Was it really an accident?"

As an agricultural employer, you have many concerns and the very last thing you want or need is an unintentional injury or death in your operation. Worker health and safety should be your top priority, because no matter how efficient your operation, injuries and deaths can destroy morale, lower productivity, and expose owners to liabilities and lawsuits.

Safety training with a workforce who has limited or low English skills should be done with an interpreter to ensure full comprehension of the topics and instructions discussed. Safety training needs to be incorporated into new worker education as well as follow up trainings. Use of machinery such as a skid steer, tractor or power tools needs to be preceded by instructions on the use of such machinery or tools. Simply asking an employee if he or she knows how to use the equipment is not enough.

There are numerous guides and resources to help you make sure your training on the farm is comprehensive. A number of farm safety resources are also available in Spanish which can help reinforce the training that is done.

Resources

Videos

Employee Housing Materials

Farm business owners and managers should have a basic understanding of the various laws that apply to agricultural labor. This section is intended as a guide for agricultural employers only, not an official interpretation of laws and regulations discussed within. Readers should recognize that new laws are created, other laws amended, and State laws vary.

Always consult an attorney for legal advice.

Overview of laws specific to agricultural employers:

Dairy employers who hire foreign-born workers have to follow the same agricultural labor laws as any other ag employer. For more information on immigration law, social security mismatch letters or what to do in the event of a raid:

I-9 and Taxes

All employers are required to verify the eligibility of each employee hired to work in the United States. Additionally, cash wages paid to employees for farm work are generally subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. If the wages are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, they are also subject to federal income tax withholding.

Up-to-date I-9 and W-4 forms, and instructions for completing each form, can be found on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website:

Workers Compensation

If you hire one or more full- or part-time employee in Vermont, or hire employees outside of Vermont and they work for you in Vermont, you are required to carry Workers Compensation. The Vermont Department of Labor pursues all valid claims regardless of an individual's documentation status.

Wages

The Vermont Department of Labor takes wage and workers compensation claims very seriously. All workers in Vermont, regardless of documentation status, have the same rights to full payment for time worked. Despite farm hardship due to low milk/feed price ratios, debts or other issues, payment to the workers on your farm needs to be a priority. Set a regular pay schedule either weekly or bi-weekly and stick to it. Failure to do so could result in an investigation by the Department of Labor.

  • An employer cannot remove wages from an employee's paycheck unless the employee has signed an authorization allowing employer to do so or the employer sufficiently documents the employee's intention to repay.
  • An employer cannot withhold a week of pay, pay for "damages," or food without the signed authorization.
  • Employers who make purchases for an employee should provide employees with a receipt at which point the employee can pay the employer the amount due.

From the Vermont Department of Labor:

  • "An employee who voluntarily leaves employment shall be paid on the last regular pay day, or if there is no regular pay day, on the following Friday. An employee who is discharged from employment shall be paid within 72 hours of the discharge."
  • "Employers must pay employees on a weekly basis. However, after providing written notice to its employees, an employer may issue paychecks on a bi-weekly or semi-monthly basis. Payday shall be within six (6) days of the last day of the pay period."
  • "Employers must provide a wage statement to its employees with each payment of wages. This statement must set forth, at a minimum, the total hours worked, the hourly rate, gross pay and each deduction fully itemized."

Information about federal and Vermont farm labor wage and hour rules and regulations can be found on the Vermont Farm Worker Wage, Hour and Housing Fact Sheet.

Maintaining Records:

Maintaining accurate records as part of the farm business includes information related to employees and personnel actions. Under Vermont law, an employer is required to maintain, for two years, true and accurate records of the hours worked by each employee and of the wages paid to each employee. Furthermore, upon demand, an employer is also required to furnish to the Commissioner of the Department of Labor a sworn statement of these records and allow the Commissioner, their deputy or authorized agent to conduct an inspection of the records at any reasonable time.

Multicultural Workforce

The task of overseeing employee housing is a neccesary job for employers. Housing is part of an employee's compensation and good living conditions are important for an individual's well-being.

When a new employee arrives at employee housing, it should be in the condition you expect the employee to maintain it during his/her employment. The level of cleanliness observed on arrival can set the precedent for their stay.

Regulations

Employee housing, like any rental unit, must comply with state rental housing codes. The landlord (in this case the employer) is required "to provide and maintain premises that are safe, clean and fit for human habitation and which are in compliance with applicable housing codes."

Two important Vermont-specific documents to review are the:

  • Vermont Rental Housing Code - from the Vermont Department of Health
  • Farm Housing Statute - from the State of Vermont - details specific farm housing statues; for example, the regulations related to the termination of housing benefits as a result of termination of employment

A useful guide to understanding landlord and tenant responsibilities is the Renting in Vermont Handbook written by Vermont Tenants.

House Upkeep and Maintenance

It is important that expectations for house upkeep and maintenance are explained carefully to each new employee. Latino employees are often accustomed to different living standards and cultural norms than those in the U.S. For example, young men in Mexico and Central America would not generally participate in cleaning or cooking at home.

Don't assume that an employee will be familiar with the appliances or cleaning supplies so make sure each employee knows and understands:

  • Appliances
    • Which appliances are included in the housing unit
    • How to operate and maintain each appliance

    Understanding how appliances are correctly used and maintained better enables an individual to care for an appliance and detect problems.

  • Cleaning Supplies
    • Which cleaning supplies are provided by the employer (if any)
    • How and where to use cleaning products

    The proper use of cleaning products and natural alternatives will improve house cleanliness as well as avoid contact with or poor use of products potentially harmful to an individual’s health.

    If the purchase of cleaning products is the employee's responsibility, the employer may need to help identify which cleaning products to buy. List of Cleaning Products [English & Spanish]

  • Safety Issues
    • Review housing safety issues such as smoke detector, unblocked exits, safety hazards, leaving stove on, etc.
    • Post and review emergency numbers in an obvious place near the phone.
    • Explain who to call in case of an emergency or housing concern.

The following booklet was developed to serve as a conversation starter about house sanitation and upkeep, and provides a general overview of housing issues. The checklist may be used to evaluate house sanitation and upkeep in an initial visit and monitor any changes in subsequent visits:

House Inspections

When a new employee moves into employee housing, an initial house inspection should be done with them to identify any concerns with the housing unit and provided appliances.

To make sure housing is being maintained properly, schedule regular inspections (at least monthly). The inspections should be done together with the employee(s) and you should discuss maintenance and sanitation concerns as they are discovered.

Rodent and Insect Infestation

An increasingly common concern in farm employee housing in Vermont is the presence of cockroaches and bedbugs. When the problem first presents itself, there are avenues for pest control and elimination, some of which are detailed in these informational handouts. It is important to clarify responsibilities related to rodent and insect infestations with the tenants.

Occupant Responsibilities

"The occupant of each dwelling unit shall maintain that part of the dwelling he or she exclusively occupies free from rodent and insect infestation and shall be responsible for extermination when the infestation is caused by his or her failure to maintain the dwelling unit except as provided for in Section IV, A(3)." (Rental Housing Health Code, State of Vermont, Department of Health)

Language Tools

In order to cultivate a positive working relationship with your employees, it is recommended that some time be spent learning about your employee. For those with a Latino workforce, this includes knowing where an employee comes from, and how his or her background may influence how work is performed on your farm. Most recommendations for agricultural labor management cross cultural and ethnic groups.

We estimate there to be 1000-1250 Latino/a farmworkers in the state of Vermont. The majority of these workers are from Mexico though there are individuals from countries in Central America such as Guatemala and El Salvador. Condisider that each individual comes from a unique home and cultural environment, and that their level of experience will differ; some may have years of experience working in various parts of the United States and others will have little or no experience.

The following resources can provide some insight into how culture and home environment may impact the workplace and assist employers with decisions when working with a Latino workforce.
Resources

Ag Labor Management With a Latino Workforce (PDF)
Published 2011, 142 pages; Migration, cultural considerations, labor management, community resources