Farm workers and rights at work

What are my rights?

As a farm worker, am I entitled to overtime pay if I work more than eight hours in a day?
  • Yes
  • No

For the most part, farm workers have the same legal rights as other workers in BC — with a few notable exceptions. Learn your rights as a farm worker in BC. 

What you should know

Who is considered a farm worker under the law

Under the law in BC, a farm worker is a person who works in a farming, ranching, orchard, or agricultural operation, and whose main responsibilities are:

  • growing or picking crops, or raising or slaughtering animals,

  • cultivating land,

  • using farm equipment, 

  • cleaning, sorting, or packing crops, or 

  • selling farm products on site.  

A farm worker does not include a worker who:

  • processes the products of an operation, 

  • works in aquaculture or a retail nursery, or 

  • works as a landscape gardener.

Farm workers’ rights under BC’s main employment law

Farm workers are covered by most sections of the Employment Standards Act, the main provincial law that protects workers in BC. For example, as a farm worker you have the right to:

  • get paid at least a minimum wage set out by law

  • time off for vacations and other types of leave

  • get notice or severance pay if you are fired 

But there are some exceptions. For example, farm workers are excluded from statutory holiday entitlements. As a farm worker, you don’t get statutory holiday pay or time off with pay for the 10 statutory holidays in BC. As well, farm workers aren’t entitled to overtime pay. The law doesn’t limit the number of hours a farm worker can work. But it does say employers cannot require workers to work excessive hours, or hours that are harmful to their health or safety.

Another exception is around vacation pay. Most workers in BC are entitled to an extra 4% or 6% of earnings, to provide them with pay during vacation. (The percentage depends on how many years they’ve worked.) Farm workers paid by the hour or by salary are entitled to vacation pay.

Meanwhile, farm workers who harvest specific crops by hand may be paid by piece rate. Farm workers paid by piece rate are not entitled to vacation pay, as it’s included in the piece rate. (Except for farm workers harvesting daffodils — the piece rate for them does not include vacation pay, so they are entitled to vacation pay on top of the piece rate.)

More info on getting paid

Our information on getting paid as a farm worker provides more detail on wages, including minimum wage and how often wages must be paid.

If an employer doesn’t follow the minimum standards

If an employer doesn’t follow the rules in the Employment Standards Act, a worker can make a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. The branch is the government office that enforces the Act. 

See our guidance on making an employment standards complaint for the steps to take.

There are time limits

You have six months to file a complaint with the branch from the time your employment ended. If you miss the six-month time limit for filing and your complaint isn’t accepted, you may be able to sue in court. But usually only for unpaid wages and severance pay.

If you work for a farm labour contractor

A farm labour contractor helps agricultural producers connect with and hire farm workers. The workers might work on a variety of farms owned by different producers. 

Farm labour contractors must have a licence from the BC government and follow certain rules. They must deposit money with the government to ensure they will follow the rules. The government can use the deposit to pay farm workers who are not paid by a contractor for work they’ve done. The wages being paid must be displayed at each work site and in every vehicle transporting workers.

The contractor must also keep a record showing:

  • the dates worked by each worker, 

  • the crop picked each day, and 

  • the volume or weight of crops picked each day by each worker.

All vehicles used by farm labour contractors to take farm workers to a job site must be maintained to certain safety levels. As well, they must have a vehicle safety notice posted in them. The notice must say that all passengers must be seated and wear a seatbelt (in vehicles requiring seat belts).

As a farm worker, you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits

Workers’ compensation is a BC government program that pays workers who are hurt on the job or get sick because of something that happened at work. The program is run by WorkSafeBC. Employers, including farmers and farm labour contractors, must pay into the program for all their workers.

As a farm worker, if you are hurt on the job or get sick because of your job, you should:

  • report the injury or illness to your employer or someone in charge,

  • tell your employer and doctor (if you need a doctor) that you will be applying for workers’ compensation benefits, and

  • apply for benefits. 

There are time limits to apply for benefits. See our information on workers’ compensation for details

The employer must send a report to WorkSafeBC to say a worker has been hurt on the job or got sick on the job because of their work. WorkSafeBC offers an online tool employers can use to make a report.

WorkSafeBC also has rules on occupational health and safety. For more information, see the WorkSafeBC website.

You may be eligible for employment insurance benefits

As a farm worker, you may be able to get employment insurance benefits if you are let go and can’t find work or if you are sick, pregnant, or on parental leave. Workers contribute to the EI program (as it’s called) with money deducted from their pay cheque.

Farm workers often have trouble getting EI benefits because they may not work enough hours in a year to be eligible. The number of hours needed to make a claim varies, depending on where a worker lives.

When you leave a job, ask your employer for your record of employment (ROE), also known as a “separation slip.” You can apply for EI even if you don't have your ROE, but it makes things easier if you do. Service Canada may be able to help you if you can’t get your ROE.

See our information on applying for EI benefits for more information. 

Keep track of the hours you work

Keep your own, up-to-date records of the hours you work. These records will help in applying for EI benefits if your employer hasn’t kept good records.

You may be eligible for Canada Pension Plan disability benefits

If a worker who paid into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) develops a severe and long-term disability that prevents them from working, the plan pays them and their dependent children a monthly pension. 

You can get these benefits until you are 65 years old. Normally, you must have contributed to the CPP for four of the past six years. 

Visit the federal government’s website for more information on Canada Pension Plan disability benefits.

If you are subjected to discrimination or sexual harassment 

All workers have the right to be treated fairly and to not be discriminated against. 

As well, all workers have the right to work free from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment means any unwelcome sexual behavior that affects your working conditions. 

For more details, see our information on if you’re discriminated against at work and if you’re sexually harassed at work.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in August 2021
  • Time to read: 6 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law and Amanda Aziz, Migrant Workers Centre

Richard Johnson
Amanda Aziz

Also on this topic

Still not sure what to do?

If you're looking for advice specific to your situation, there are options for free or low-cost help.

Options for legal help

Copyright 2022 People's Law School

Powered by contentful

We are grateful to work on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, whose Peoples continue to live on and care for these lands.