Colorado Farm Workers: Know your Workers’ Compensation Rights

Aug 21, 2014 | WC & Other Laws

Although Colorado’s economy is now mainly driven by the service industries, agriculture remains to be the state’s second largest industry. With at least 36,200 farms encompassing 31 million acres, Colorado’s farm industry is a key element of the state’s economy.

According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, it accounts for $40 billion in overall economic activity generated annually and $6 billion cash receipts from sales of crops and livestock in 2010. Colorado agriculture also provides more than 170,000 jobs and hosts some of US’ leading processed food companies. Efficient farming and ranching methods have helped Colorado feed the country and the world, exporting at least $1 billion worth of food products.

Farm workers are important workforces in agricultural states like Colorado and to exporting economies such as the US. However, agricultural workers are also among the most exploited and mistreated workers in the country. According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, farm work belonged to the country’s top 10 most life-threatening jobs with a 41.1% fatality rate. In spite of that, farm work also belonged to America’s 25 worst-paying jobs according to the with a meager mean annual wage of $17,630.

Colorado farm workers and ranchers are among those who toil for extremely low wages in appalling working and living conditions. Most of them live in the constant fear of job loss or discharge, a factor discouraging them to assert their legal rights however degrading their conditions are.

Frequently, farm workers do not receive the minimum wage, particularly those working under the piece rate scheme or being paid per bucket or bag. Other wage problems experienced by most farm workers include unlawful deductions and unpaid total work hours.

Colorado laws state that farm workers must receive the minimum hourly wage for every hour worked. Although federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the Colorado Minimum Wage Order No. 28 mandates that Colorado employers should pay their workers the higher value state minimum wage of $7.64 effective January 1, 2012.

Colorado state laws also mandate the compliance of employers and contractors to certain labor standards related to working and living conditions. Farm labor contractors who hire workers on behalf of employers must be licensed by Colorado and the US government.

Farm workers usually ride overcrowded and unsafe vehicles to their workplace or live in congested, insanitary and dilapidated temporary housing facilities. Transportation and housing must meet health and safety standards at par with state and federal laws.

Exposure to pesticides is also regulated under the Worker Protection Standards adopted by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Farm workers must be provided with protective gears, potable drinking water, bathrooms and washing facilities in farms, decontamination sites and trainings on the proper handling and application of pesticides.

Agricultural workers must also have workers’ compensation insurance under Colorado and US laws. Job-related injuries or disabilities entitle workers to immediate medical treatment, a claim to compensation and a percentage of lost wages depending on the severity of the injury and number of days out of work to fully recuperate, employee retention and return-to-work opportunities.

Farm workers deserve better. If you or someone you know needs help with claiming compensation for work-related injuries get the help of an experienced attorney now! Know your rights now and stand up for them. Contact one of our lawyers at Kaplan Morrell today at 303-780-7329 for a FREE CONSULTATION.