Bulletin #1060, Orienting New Farm Employees in Maine: A Checklist for Maine Agricultural Employers
Developed by Jason Lilley, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Sustainable Agriculture Professional, and Leslie Forstadt, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Associate Professor, Child and Family Development Specialist.
Reviewed by Tori Jackson, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Educator, and Gary Anderson, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Animal and BioScience Specialist.
Finding and keeping good employees is a common concern among many Maine farm owners. Effective training, relationship development, and communication strategies are all important components of getting off on the right foot with new employees and fostering their interest in staying for multiple seasons.
This checklist is designed to assist farmers in orienting one or more employees once they’ve been hired. It covers a variety of topics including developing an employee handbook, meeting state and federal requirements, mandatory and recommended training, ongoing training and communication, and who to contact in Maine with questions.
This checklist is meant to provide you with guidelines in a variety of areas. The checklist is not legal advice, and the accuracy of the document is subject to updates in federal and state laws. Please note the publication date at the bottom of the document.
On and Off-Farm Communication Skills
Understand your communication style before hiring new employees. This will help you develop your staffing plan and policies, and is an important consideration when planning meetings with your employees.
- Are you stronger with written or verbal communication?
- How often do you prefer to meet?
- What is your farm management structure?
- Who oversees and can answer questions about what?
- What is the decision-making process?
- How can you foster employee motivation and investment in the business?
- When is there autonomy for making decisions?
Employee Policies and Handbook
An early step in effective and clear communication is to create an employee handbook. Employee handbooks ensure that information is provided up front, and employees are not taken by surprise with unknown expectations down the road.
A basic list of topics for a handbook includes:
- Introduction and Welcome
- Terms of Employment
- Decision Making/ Farm Management Structure
- Compensation and Benefits
- Leave Policies
- Human Rights
- Workplace Health and Safety
- Internal Policies
- Disciplinary Policies
- Job Descriptions and Expectations
- Probation Periods and Promotion Process
The University of Minnesota Extension Employee Handbook Development Guide (PDF) offers other topics that you may want to include in your handbook.
For more details on developing your employee handbook, see the Guide to Developing a B.C. Agriculture Employee Handbook (PDF) from the British Columbian Ministry of Agriculture.
Federal and State Tax Forms
When hiring new employees to be sure that you are up to speed with the tax and regulatory requirements. The State of Maine Business Answers resource is set up to help businesses navigate these issues.
All businesses who hire workers must obtain and complete the following:
- Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN). Complete and file IRS Form SS-4, EIN. Available on the IRS website.
- Register for Maine State Income Tax Withholding and Unemployment Insurance. See the State of Maine IRS and Department of Labor’s registration application booklet (PDF) or register on the Maine Revenue Services website.
- If you paid gross wages of $20,000 or more in a calendar quarter or employed ten or more persons in one day in twenty different weeks in a calendar year, you must also file Unemployment Compensation Tax.
- If hiring foreign workers, be sure to follow the guidelines for Hiring Foreign Workers (State of Maine Department of Labor) and to file the appropriate paperwork needed for the H2A program.
All new employees must complete (and keep a record on file):
- Employee’s Withholding Certificate W-4 obtained from the IRS
- Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 obtained from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This form can be downloaded from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website or call 800.870.3676.
You may or may not need to carry a Worker’s Compensation policy. It will depend on:
- The amount of liability insurance you carry
- The number of non-family employees on the farm
The Maine Workers’ Compensation Act Title 39-A M.R.S.A has the specifics to consider. See Maine Revised Statutes Title 39-A: Workers’ Compensation, Section 401. Liability of Employer (PDF), page 106, for info on farm employers worker compensation responsibilities.
To discuss your farm’s situation regarding Worker’s Compensation, contact the State of Maine Workers Compensation Board of Maine.
Categories of Employment
Maine-specific laws and requirements vary depending on the type of work that your employees are performing. The types may include farmhand or retail worker, among others.
- Farmhand (fieldwork, packing, machinery operation, farm mechanic)
- Has no overtime or minimum wage requirements
- No minimum age requirement, unless working with equipment, livestock, agrichemicals, or at heights.
- Retail (someone whose job includes sales of products not produced on the farm or of value-added products (i.e. maple syrup, apple pie, bone broth, etc.)
- Are eligible for overtime and must meet minimum wage.
When contacting state agencies for clarification on labor laws for your farm, be sure to mention that your call is regarding agricultural workplace questions and specify the type of worker that you are calling about. Many state and federal agricultural employment regulations are significantly different than other types of employment. More information regarding the non-agricultural overtime pay laws in Maine can be found the Maine Legislature’s Revised Statutes website, Title 26: Labor and Industry, Chapter 7: Employment Practices, Subchapter 3: Minimum Wages.
Posters to Be Displayed in a Central Location
- Worker protection standards information must be posted in a central location on the farm. Access and print the WPS “Protect Yourself from Pesticides” poster.
- Handwashing posters (PDF) should also be located around the bathrooms and areas where food products will be handled.
- If employing H2A foreign workers you must display this Employee’s Rights Under the H2A Program (PDF).
Best Management Practices in Agriculture
- Give the new employee your employee handbook and make sure that they read it prior to their first day.
- Have the employee sign off on reviewing the employee handbook and give them the opportunity to ask related questions.
- Tour the farm to highlight locations of key components of the farm (parking, restrooms, break areas, key workspaces, etc.) and safety equipment (fire extinguishers, emergency eyewash areas, etc.).
- Set up the employee with a mentor they can go to with specific questions.
End of the First Day and at Regular Intervals
- Check in with the employee to see how things are going and answer questions.
Communication with Staff
It is important to use effective communication strategies in your written and in-person communication with employees to maintain positive relationships and convey mutual respect.
- Develop good training methods and ongoing communication (hang up information in a central location; have regular meetings).
- Create a culture of communication for the workplace.
- Use “I” statements. (See some examples: “I” Statements (PDF).)
- Identify your decision-making process (consensus, majority, etc.). When is there autonomy for making decisions, who is responsible?
Regular meetings are a way to keep everyone informed and equally aware of what is happening. There are many models of how to conduct meetings. One or more types of meetings may happen regularly.
- Daily: the crew meets to go over the tasks and expectations for the day.
- Weekly: the crew meets once a week to go over the week’s schedule.
- Management: the team managers meet regularly to review ongoing tasks and as well as time for big-picture thinking. The crew may be involved in periodic or ongoing big-picture thinking and/or the management may inform the crew of outcomes from these meetings.
- Farm family: regardless of how many members of the farm are engaged in daily farming tasks, this important meeting keeps everyone on the same page and is a way to collect new ideas and encourage everyone’s participation.
Food Safety (Federally required)
- Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
- Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
Farms that are certified under the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification program, or that will be covered under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) must train employees on food safety practices. While this is mandatory training for GAP and FSMA covered farms, this type of training is a good idea for all farms.
- “Fruits, Vegetables, and Food Safety: Health and Hygiene on the Farm” Worker Training DVD developed by Cornell University
- “Food Safety Field Training Kit for Fresh Produce Handlers” from Penn State. A flip chart for training workers.
- The Produce Safety Alliance’s list of required records (worker training, sterilizing surfaces, testing water, etc.) for FSMA. See the General Resource Listing page, under the “Recordkeeping” heading.
Worker Protection Standards (Federally required)
Anyone working in agricultural fields where pesticides are applied must be trained under the Worker Protection Standards (WPS). Training must occur before entering the field (on the first day of work) and employees must be re-trained every year. The two types of workers under the WPS are “workers” (people working in the field, but not applying or handling pesticides), and “handlers” (people applying pesticides and entering fields before the re-entry interval (REI) is up).
The first 21:30 minutes of the EPA approved video Agricultural Worker and Handler Pesticide Safety Training (Vimeo) meets the training requirements for “workers.” Handlers must view the entire video to meet the training requirements. Be sure to have all trainees sign off on receiving the training. (A Spanish version is available at Seguridad Con Pesticidas Para Trabajadores Agricolas (YouTube).)
Use this checklist: Worker Protection Standard (Wps) Requirements for Agricultural Employers of Workers (PDF) to ensure that you are meeting all of the WPS training requirements.
Visit the PERC’s Training Resources for the Worker Protection Standard 2016 page for more EPA approved training materials.
Emergency Action Plan
All farms should have an emergency action plan (EAP). This document clearly explains what should be done in the case of specific types of accidents. This document helps farmers, farm workers, neighbors, and emergency response teams to appropriately react to emergencies in safe and efficient ways. After developing your EAP be sure to distribute and share that plan with your local emergency response teams and your employees. Key emergency contact information should be posted at a central location.
Michigan State University offers a fillable Emergency Farm Plan Electronic Template (PDF).
Resources for Ongoing Safety Training
- Tailgate Safety Training for Employees from Ohio State University offers materials for various 20-minute trainings.
- Maine Farm Safety Program resources from UMaine Cooperative Extension. This series of printed publications (English only) covers topics like Winter Driving, Harvesting Hay, Electrical Safety, and much more.
- Gempler’s has a series of over 50 printed publications (English and Spanish) on topics ranging from pesticide safety to working safely with chainsaws.
When hiring new employees, your effort to create a team and ensure that they are up to speed with all of the farm policies will lead to better relationships. It will be easier to communicate if there are issues related to work performance. When the required legal documents, trainings, and signage are in place, a safer work environment will reduce problems and issues with regulators. Use this checklist for guidance and reach out to appropriate organizations when questions arise.
Contact your local University of Maine Cooperative Extension County Office for further resources on orienting new farm employees in Maine.
- Maine Revenue Services
- Labor Questions (Agricultural Resource Development Division, Farm Labor Link Network)
- Maine Business Regulations Guidance (Business Answers)
- State of Maine Workers Compensation Board Regional Offices
- Board of Pesticides Control (WPS) (State of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry)
- Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine
- Agricultural Mediation Services (University of Maine Cooperative Extension)
- Farm Safety Planning (Cooperative Extension: Agriculture)
- 2021 Maine Farm Worker Compensation Survey
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
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