One of the largest producers of Georgia’s Vidalia onions is being ordered to pay $1.4 million in damages to hundreds of its workers for unpaid overtime. A federal court found that Bland Farms Production and Packing failed to pay overtime to 460 of its workers from the spring harvest season of 2012 through this year. The U.S. Department of Labor initiated the lawsuit in 2014 against the company’s owner, Delbert Bland.
Farming for more than three decades, Bland grows Vidalia onions on more than 2,000 acres in rural southeast Georgia. These types of onions are specific to Georgia, and state law limits their production to only twenty Georgia counties. Vidalia onions are shipped globally and known for their particularly sweet taste. Bland’s crop of Vidalia onions last year was estimated at $120 million.
The lawsuit claims that Bland violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in its exemption for paying overtime to workers for growing, harvesting, and packaging the farmer’s own crops. However, since 2012 Bland has been citing that exemption despite workers packing onions that Bland bought from other farmers. Bland contracts with smaller onion farmers to purchase their entire onion crops, and the Bland workers were not being paid overtime for the work.
Bland argued that no labor laws were broken because Bland Farms employees helped the smaller farmers he purchased from grow and harvest their crops, therefore making Bland a farmer in those onion fields, as well. The court rejected that argument and ordered to pay the $1.4 million in unpaid overtime to its workers.
Unpaid Overtime and The FLSA
Overtime pay is governed by the FLSA, and unless an employee is exempt, employees covered under the FLSA are required to receive overtime pay for hours worked over forty hours in a workweek at least time and a half of their regular pay. There is no ceiling for the number of overtime hours that can be worked in a workweek, which is a fixed and regularly occurring period of 168 hours, or seven consecutive 24 hour periods. Overtime for a workweek must be paid on the regular pay day for the pay period in which the overtime was earned.
It is important to note that the FLSA does not make any determinations about full time or part work, nor about whether the work done on nights and weekends specifically requires overtime pay. An employee’s work schedule is between the employee and employer. For the purposes of overtime, the only requirements that the FLSA considers is whether the employee has worked more than forty hours in a particular workweek and if the employee qualifies for any of the exemptions stated in the federal act.
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If you believe that you are owed unpaid overtime for your work, you may have a claim under the FLSA and other federal wage laws. Call the office or contact us today in Decatur at The Vaughn Law Firm to schedule a free and confidential review of your case with one of our experienced attorneys now.