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Need local farm help? Remember these 4 hiring tips

Legal Notes: With many out of work, more people could be looking for employment on the farm this summer.

Paul Goeringer

April 29, 2020

3 Min Read
Help wanted sign taped to a window
LOCAL HELP TIPS: With many people out of jobs, this could be a good year to hire local people to work on the farm. Figure out what help you need and remember the federal and state restrictions on what you can and can’t ask during an interview. JannHuizenga/Getty Images

As we move through the growing season, many of you will need additional farmworkers. 

With the high unemployment rate, many people with no farm experience might be looking for work on farms this year.

1. Figure out your needs. Proper hiring of quality employees will require producers to think about their operation’s needs, develop a job description based on those needs, develop an employment form to capture necessary information, ensure that interviewing practices do not violate the law, and then, once a new employee is on the job, making sure that employee is adequately trained in the farm’s management practices.

Before hiring any employee, always consider and assess where you need workers. Do you need a new employee to drive a tractor? Do you need someone to work with livestock, harvest crops or work in the farm store? Or, do you need someone to do a combination of these jobs?  

Knowing your needs will help you to develop a job description for the position. The job description should include a general description, duties and tasks, working conditions, and compensation.

Once the job description is completed you can start advertising for the position using standard methods you have found useful in the past.

You should have candidates fill out a written application with their name, address, past work experience and references. This application will be valuable in helping you perform a background check on finalists, even if there is only one applicant.

After reviewing applications and separating qualified and nonqualified applicants, you will need to interview the finalists. This can be done over the phone, or you can bring the finalists to the farm to interview in-person.

Develop a list of questions to ask the finalist (yes, even if there is only one) and decide how to score answers. This will assist you in making sure the process is fair if an unpicked candidate files a lawsuit.

2. Ask the right questions.

When asking questions, make sure you remember federal and state legal restrictions on questions you can ask. 
Refrain from asking questions or making statements related to ethnicity, race, religion, gender, disability or age. For example, it would violate state and federal law to ask if the applicant is a U.S. citizen. You may, however, legally ask if the applicant is authorized to work in the United States.

3. Get necessary paperwork.

After all this, let’s assume you have a successful candidate and are ready to get them started and begin on-boarding. As part of the hiring process, you will need to complete the I-9 process to verify the person is legal to work in the U.S.

Along with this, never retain copies of the new employee’s Social Security card, driver’s license, passport or other documents used to verify U.S. work status.

4. Set expectations.

As the new employee starts working on the farm, take time to explain your farm’s practices. What is the terminology used, such as internal names used for farmland and equipment? What are the best management practices used on the farm? What equipment is the employee provided? What equipment will they be expected to provide for themselves? 

Take time to do this at the start, and if the employee does not understand how to do something, take a moment to educate them on the farm’s practices and how to complete the practice properly.

Take time to update all employees on new methods and allow them opportunities to attend training in order to stay up-to-date on the latest practices. This will help prevent potential issues down the road with claims that your operation was using improper practices.

Hiring employees is not easy for any business, including farm operations. As we see record unemployment, you may likely experience an influx of interest in employment on your farm. 

Take the time to find the right employees to prevent hiring an employee who may cause issues down the road.   

Goeringer is an Extension legal specialist with the University of Maryland.

About the Author(s)

Paul Goeringer

Paul Goeringer specializes in legal risk management as it relates to agriculture. Prior to coming to AREC, Paul worked at the University of Arkansas where his legal research was focused in the areas of environmental compliance, right-to-farm laws, agricultural leasing laws, contracting issues, federal farm program compliance, recreational use and agritourism issues, and estate planning issues in agriculture. Through this research Paul developed educational materials to better help Arkansas’s agricultural producers understand and manage legal risks in their operations. Since joining AREC, Paul has worked with county extension educators to begin to fill the void in the areas of agricultural leasing and legal issues in estate planning. Paul is also looking at modifying his existing research in the areas of environmental compliance, right-to-farm laws, and federal farm program compliance to benefit Maryland’s farmers. Paul is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a B.S. in Agricultural Economics, the University of Oklahoma with a Juris Doctorate, and the University of Arkansas with an LL.M. in Agricultural Law and an M.S. in Agricultural Economics. Paul is licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and is a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association, the American Agricultural Law Association, the Southern Agricultural Economics Association, and the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

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