Wage and Hours Rights
In Oregon, all employers must have a regular payday at least once every 35 days. Under federal law, your employer must pay you at least once every two weeks. The employer can choose to pay you more often, but must pay you on the regular paydays chosen.
If you are a seasonal farmworker and your employer fires you, or if you and your employer agree on the end of your employment, your employer must pay you all of the wages owed to you on your last day of work. If you decide to quit, give at least 48 hours' notice to the employer. It's best to give this notice in writing, making sure to list the date, and keep a copy of the notice. If you do give notice, the employer must pay all wages due on your last day of work. If you do not give your employer notice, he or she has 48 hours to pay you. You also can ask your employer to mail your final paycheck to you. You do not have to go back to work to get your final paycheck.
Each payday, the employer must give you a written statement that says how much you earned and how you earned it. For example, if you work at an hourly rate, the statement must say the number of hours you worked and the hourly rate. If you are paid at a piece rate, the statement must also say the quantity (pieces) of work you did. The statement must also have the name and address of the employer and the reason and amount of each deduction from your wages.
The employer may make deductions from your wages for state and federal taxes, Social Security and Medicare and workers' compensation contributions. The employer can make other deductions from your wages only if you authorize them in writing and in advance. No deduction that brings your wage below the minimum wage can be made for tools, equipment, uniforms or maintenance of tools and uniforms, or housing or transportation that is necessary for the employer to maintain an adequate work force.
In Oregon employers must pay you the state minimum wage, which is $8.80 an hour in 2012. If you are paid by the hour, your employer must pay you a minimum of $8.80 for every hour you work. If you are paid by piece rate, your wages still must average $8.80 an hour for every hour you work during a work week. If you did not earn at least $8.80 an hour for your work, the employer must pay you the difference.
Almost all employers have to pay the minimum wage. Contact your local Legal Aid Services of Oregon office or the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to find out if your employer does not have to pay you the minimum wage.
You may be eligible to receive overtime pay if you worked in a cannery, drier or packing plant. If you worked more than 10 hours per day and the plant is not located on a farm and is not primarily processing crops produced on that farm, you must be paid overtime for each hour worked over 10 hours each day or over 40 hours per week.
If your employer does not pay you all of your wages, including any minimum wages, overtime, vacation or bonus pay, the employer may be liable to you for the wages owed plus statutory wage penalties and lawyer fees if you decide to hire a lawyer. You can ask for the amount of your daily wage for each day you are not paid all your wages, up to a maximum of 30 days. Your daily wage is equal to your hourly wage rate or the minimum wage rate (whichever is higher) multiplied by eight hours. This is true even if you worked for the employer for only a few days. You generally must give written notice to the employer of the amount owed. Under the federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, you can also ask for a statutory penalty against the employer for failure to pay your wages when due.
Your best protection is to keep a record each day of the amount of work you do and the hours you work. Workers with good records of the hours they worked, piecework they did, and wages they received, will have a much better chance of winning their cases.
Rights to Receive a Written Contract
Federal law, and in some cases state law, requires employers and contractors to give you a written contract that states the terms and conditions of employment. Only farmers with small farms, who do not use farm labor contractors, do not have to give you this written contract. The contract must tell you the following: where you will work; whether regular workers are on strike; who you will work for; the type of crops and work to be done; when the job will begin and end; the wage rate; how wages are calculated; and whether transportation, housing or other benefits are offered and the cost to you of each benefit. If you are a migrant farm worker, the contractor and farmer must give you a written contract at the time you are hired. If a contractor recruits you, the contractor must give you a copy of the contract. If you are a seasonal worker recruited by the farmer, you must ask for a copy.
If your employer or contractor does not obey this law or has given you false information about a job, you can file a civil lawsuit against that employer or the farm labor contractor for statutory damages for each violation (up to $500 under federal law and $1000 under state law at the time of this writing).
Farm Labor Housing
Any housing provided to you by the farm labor contractor or the farmer must be registered with Oregon OSHA and must comply with state and local health and safety codes. For example, there should be enough bathrooms, showers, water faucets and sinks for all the camp residents. The operator of the camp cannot make false promises about the housing. If the housing does not comply with health codes or is not what was promised, you can ask the camp operator to fix the problems. There are limits as to how much a camp operator or farmer can charge for rent, especially if the charges make your wages fall below the state minimum wage.
All the rules for living in the camp must be in writing and posted where everyone can see them. This notice must tell you the name and address of the operator, how to contact the Oregon OSHA if you have any complaints or questions, and the rules for living in the camp. The notice must be written in the languages used by the people who live in the camp. The rules must be reasonable and apply equally to all the residents in the camp. You have the right to have visitors, use of a telephone, freedom from unauthorized entry into your house, a cabin or room provided by the employer or contractor, and freedom from unreasonably restrictive rules by the employer.
A contractor who takes you to a new place to work must provide free food and housing at the new place if the work doesn't start when the contractor said it would. If you wait more than 30 days for work to start, the contractor must pay for your travel home or to a new work site.
Your employer or farm labor contractor must provide water, toilets and hand washing facilities in the field at convenient locations. The employer or contractor must provide clean, sanitary water drinking cups for all the workers. The toilets must be clean, sanitary and private. There must be at least one toilet for every 20 workers, and men and women must be given separate toilets. The employer must provide hand washing facilities with clean water, soap, paper towels and trash containers.
Pesticides and chemicals used in the workplace may be dangerous to your health. The employer must post notices if a field or work space has recently been treated with pesticides or chemicals. If you are applying pesticides, you must be given the proper training and protective clothing. If you are exposed to pesticides, either from spray from a helicopter or plane or while applying them or working around them, immediately seek medical help, remove your clothing, put it in a bag for safekeeping, write down the chemical type and container, and report it to your employer. If you look for medical help because you were exposed to chemicals on the job, be sure to tell your doctor and employer that you were exposed on the job and want to fill out a claim for workers' compensation.
You can complain to the Oregon Health and Safety Agency (OR-OSHA) about your employer or the contractor if they do not follow the law, and your complaint will be kept confidential. You may bring a claim for $1000 against a farm labor contractor who does not provide field sanitation (drinking water, hand-washing facilities and toilets).
The Right to be Free from Discrimination
Employers and farm labor contractors cannot discriminate against you for complaining or suing them. You can ask for damages if the employer or contractor harasses you because you asked for your wages or demanded your rights under these laws. You also have the right to get a court order to stop the employer's or contractor's abuse, to order the employer or contractor to give you your job back, and to give you money damages.
If you are a farmworker, nursery worker, reforestation worker, or if you work in a packing plant and want to talk to a lawyer, there are Legal Aid Services of Oregon offices that specialize in helping farmworkers at no cost to you. To see if you qualify for their help, call your closest Legal Aid Services of Oregon office listed in the phone book. Most offices employ people who speak Spanish.
Legal editor: Mark J. Wilk, February, 2012.