Legal Services Vermont can help H-2A farmworkers with legal problems. We offer free legal advice and representation to eligible H-2A workers.
For legal help in Vermont, contact Cielo Mendoza, staff attorney, at Legal Services Vermont at 1-800-889-2047 or use our online form. Ask us for a free interpreter if you need one.
We represent H-2A workers who work in the fields, such as orchards and vegetable farms. We also help H-2A dairy workers and H-2A workers who work in fruit and vegetable packing houses.
When you talk to us, your information is always confidential.
We represent H-2A workers on basic employment law and also laws and protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We can help with problems such as poor working conditions, unsafe housing, or not earning minimum wage.
We also put together free education materials such as our annual workers’ rights calendar. Contact us if you would like to get a copy of our calendar which explains many H-2A worker legal rights.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What do farmworkers need to know about COVID-19?
The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has led to new recommended prevention practices and new laws.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. To help prevent it, it is important to follow the government recommendations by always wearing a cloth face mask when you are around other people. Also wash your hands thoroughly on a regular basis or use hand sanitizer. If possible, you should keep a distance of six feet — two meters — between you and other people.
If you do get sick, symptoms include having a fever and a cough. If this happens to you, do not try to continue working. Tell your boss right away. You should be given the ability to stay in a place away from others until you get better. You must be given adequate food and water. If you get very sick, call 911.
What should I do if I don’t have clean water for handwashing?
First, ask your boss to provide it. The law says you need to have clean water within ¼ mile – 400 meters – of where you are working. Because of the pandemic, the federal government has recommended that clean water for hand washing be made easily available.
Farmworkers must have reasonable access to hand washing facilities equipped with soap, clean water, and clean, single-use towels. If you do not have this, contact us.
What if I can’t work because I’m too sick due to the virus?
The law says that you get two weeks or 80 hours of paid sick time if you are sick with the COVID-19 illness. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate or discriminate against you for taking this sick time. If you got sick at work, you also might have a claim for workers’ compensation.
All farmworkers are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. You can get workers compensation if you are injured or get sick due to a work condition, whether or not it’s from COVID-19. You have the right to medical treatment at no cost to you. Insurance should pay for your medical bills. If you have trouble with insurance coverage of medical bills, contact us.
What should I do if I’m injured or get sick at work?
If you get hurt or get sick at work, get medical treatment right away. Do your best to document your injury. Tell the doctor you were injured or got sick at work. Tell your boss right away.
Your employer needs to file a workers’ compensation injury report within 48 hours. If they don’t, you need to fill out and send in a Vermont Department of Labor Form 5 as soon as possible. Follow this link to learn more.
Follow the doctor’s orders, even if this means staying out of work. Keep copies of all medical visits and records, the doctor’s name and address and other information about the illness.
If you are still injured when you go home, you can continue to get medical care. But it is best to start your treatment and your claim before you leave the country. If you have any questions about workers’ compensation benefits, contact us.
What should farms be doing to make a safe workplace for farmworkers?
Your employer needs to provide a safe work environment free of hazards. This includes protections against COVID-19. Your employer should give you:
- personal protective equipment, if necessary
- cloth face masks, and
- the ability to keep six feet — two meters — apart from other workers.
If you have concerns or questions about the safety of your work, contact us.
What is the minimum wage for farmworkers?
All workers in the United States have the legal right to earn at least the minimum wage. In 2020, the minimum wage in Vermont is $10.36 per hour. Even if you are paid by the piece, your wages for the week must average the minimum wage.
Some workers, such as H-2A workers, have a right to earn more than the minimum wage—a special wage for this classification of workers. H-2A workers, workers with a temporary visa to work on a farm, or workers who work with H-2A workers, are entitled this year to a basic wage of $14.29 per hour in Vermont in 2020.
Generally, farmworkers are not entitled to overtime pay, although some packing house or nursery workers do get overtime.
Should I keep track of my hours worked?
It is very important to write down your hours each day. Write down the hour you start, the time you stop and start again for lunch, and the time you stop working. If you are paid a piece rate, write down the number of pieces you made, buckets or boxes you picked and the piece rate of that crop.
It is important to keep track of these things because your employer might make a mistake. If possible, keep a folder or envelope where you can keep your working records, including your pay stubs. Your paystubs are important records of the work you did.
What about safe housing?
If your employer provides you with a place to live, it must be in good shape. It must be inspected each year. It must be safe and have clean water. Garbage must be removed and the bathrooms cleaned regularly. You should have enough storage for your food and personal items. If there are charges or expenses for the housing, that information must be posted where you can read it.
Because of COVID-19, workers should sleep a minimum of six feet — two meters — apart. It’s best to sleep head to toe. There should be wood or plastic barriers between beds and bunk beds should be avoided. If you have questions, contact us. We may be able to tell your employer about your concerns without using your name.
What other rights should I know about?
A federal law in the United States called the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act covers most farms and farmworkers. Under this law:
- you have the right to accurate information about your work at the time you are hired
- the right to accurate and complete wage or pay statements each time you are paid
- clean and safe housing
- transportation in safe vehicles if the employer provides transportation, and
- prompt payment of all wages owed.
If your employer violates any of these rights, you can get up to $500 for each violation – sometimes more. We are specialists at this type of law so contact us if you have questions.
How can I get help to access health care in Vermont?
Contact the Vermont Office of the Health Care Advocate at 1-800-917-7787. They are a free service.
How can I get legal help?
For free legal help in Vermont, contact Cielo Mendoza, staff attorney, Legal Services Vermont at 1-800-889-2047 or use our online form. Ask us for a free interpreter if you need one.
If you are a farmworker in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut or Rhode Island, you can get legal help from Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Call 207-942-0673 or 207-233-2930 on WhatsApp.