From HECouncil.org, Hawaii Employers Council, Nov 2011.
An employer hiring migrant farm workers through the H-2A visa program cannot credit the cost of housing that federal law requires the employer to provide the workers in the wages paid to the workers, the Eleventh Circuit decides.
However, the Court agrees that the employer is entitled to wage credits for the cost of meals for the workers.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act an employer is entitled to wage credits for housing and meals. In the case before the Court, migrant workers alleged that the employer paid them below the minimum wage in violation of the Act when it failed to reimburse them for fees and travel costs they incurred during their travel from Mexico to the employer’s farms in Georgia. A lower court held that the employer was entitled to wage credits for the cost of housing and meals that it provided the workers and that those credits offset any amounts owed the workers for expenses they incurred during their travel, but the U.S. Secretary of Labor argued that the employer is not entitled to wage credits for the provision of free housing for the workers, which is required by federal law, because this cost primarily benefits the employer. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit defers to the Labor Secretary’s interpretation.
Employers must agree to provide certain benefits to workers hired through the H-2A program, including the requirement to “furnish housing in accordance with regulations,” and in the employment contract, the employer must provide housing at no cost to the H-2A workers who are not reasonably able to return to their residence within the same day, the Court finds. Since this is a condition of receiving the H-2A certification, the Court says the housing is primarily for the benefit of the employer, not the employees. Ramos-Barrientos v. Bland Farms LLC