–by Jason Foscolo, Esq. 

An important labor law case came out of a federal court in New York last week that farmers in particular need to be cognizant of, Glatt vs. Fox Searchlight Pictures.

An intern sued Fox Searchlight Pictures for back-wages after an unfulfilling summer working on the set of Black Swan, where he performed menial tasks like retrieving files, delivering paychecks, organizing file cabinets, and making copies. The court held that because these activities were primarily for the benefit of the employer and not for the education or professional development of the plaintiff, the plaintiff was an “employee” covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York State Labor Law. Status as an employee entitles the plaintiff to receive minimum wage for his time on the set of Black Swan.

The entire opinion is worth a read, but the legal analysis of the sufficiency of the internship exemption to federal and New York labor law begins on page 23.

The pace of these types of cases seems to be quickening, and this trend may have a significant impact for farmers in the state. The farming industry relies heavily on internships to create the next generation of talent. On-the-job training is the best way for young farmers to gain the experience they need to become self reliant. Internships can provide genuinely useful educational experiences for them, but the margins in food production are so slim employers often cannot afford to pay for their labor.

An intern is not a free pair of hands. There is a right way to incorporate them into a farm business and a wrong way. There are labor law issues as addressed in the Fox Searchlight opinion, but there are also issues of Worker’s Compensation, federal and state withholding tax, and more. We’ll be seeing more of these cases in the future, and farmers should do well to not be named as a defendant.