Apprentices and Interns are Farm Employees.

Vermont laws define ‘employee’ very broadly.  Broadly enough so that apprentices and interns are considered to be farm employees.  Calling someone an apprentice or an intern is not a way to avoid farm employment issues such as Workers Compensation Insurance or withholding taxes.

Yes, there is an exemption from the legal obligation of providing Workers Compensation insurance if the farm’s total aggregate payroll is less than $10,000 per year.  In Vermont, ‘total aggregate payroll includes all wages paid to all farm workers, plus the fair market value of any housing, or other benefits including meat, milk, etc., provided as remuneration.’  The fair market value of housing is different in different parts of the state.  The value of meals, fuel, uniforms, and everything would be included in the total.

Vermont laws on this are written to protect employees.

Workers Compensation Insurance protects farm employers from lawsuits following farm accidents.  Having a farm LLC or corporation does not protect farm owners from such lawsuits- workers compensation insurance does.  If your farm’s aggregate payroll is less than $10,000, and you do not have workers compensation insurance, and an employee is injured, you are under an obligation to pay- you are providing coverage, not an insurance company.

If you have a CSA, and you allow members to pay for their shares by working on your farm, those members are considered to be employees in terms of workers compensation insurance.  You are selling the share for the value of their work.  The member has earned income equal to the value of their share.  This is a very strict interpretation of the law.  It is the interpretation of the law that regulators would take if they were to visit your farm.

If you have volunteers that help on your farm, the first day might be considered to be volunteering.  The second day that they appear, it would probably be thought that the person is an employee.  If the volunteer receives anything of value from the farm, they are definitely an employee in terms of workers compensation insurance.

Foreign workers are included in the calculation of ‘total aggregate payroll.’  The insurance coverage does not care what an employee’s paperwork looks like.

If you have different enterprises on your farm, you may be able to estimate the time an employee works at riskier and less risky jobs. If you have a farm stand and a cash register, the time an employee is working at the stand is not farm work.  If the employee goes to a farmer’s market, again, this is not farm work. 

Farm insurance agents are where farmers usually buy their workers compensation insurance.  Talk to the agent about your employees, payroll, and tasks that they do in order to estimate the premium that you will have to pay.  After a year, they will do an audit of your payroll to see what your payroll for the year actually was.  Talk to your insurance agent about safety programs or ways that you can cut the cost of your insurance.

Many farmers have apprentices, and interns, and some have volunteers.  If people on working on your farm, having workers compensation insurance can protect you from big medical bills if an accident happens. 

Vermont’s Department of Labor handles workers compensation issues in Vermont.  Their website is http://www.labor.vermont.gov/Business/WorkersCompensation/tabid/114/Default.aspx    Steve Monahan is the Director of Workers Compensation and Safety in VT, his email address is <stephen.monahan@state.vt.us>

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About Dennis Kauppila

I work with farmers on finances. I started with UVM Extension in 1983, and have worked with hundreds of farmers on issues ranging from starting a farm, how to get a loan, leasing a farm, understanding farm finances, to retiring from farming. I teach 1 or 2 courses for farmers each winter. I am working with several farmers now on business plans, and I continue to work with many farmers on balance sheets and budgeting.
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