The Latest From the ALRB

California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board Requires Agricultural Employers to Walk an Increasingly Fine Line

When it comes to employment laws and regulations, California employers operate in the most complex and onerous legal environment in the country. In a perfect world, all employers would have ample time, energy, and resources to comply with every law and regulation dreamt up by federal and state lawmakers. In reality, however, employers must often choose where to focus their compliance efforts. A recent decision issued by California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (“ALRB”) highlights the Board’s unwavering bias in favor of employees and serves as an important reminder that employers cannot afford to ignore the ALRB.

In its decision, the Board found that an employer violated California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act (“ALRA”) by instructing an employee not speak about his opinion that the employer’s new harvesting equipment would slow workers down and negatively affect piece-rate wages. While this conclusion sounds reasonable at first glance, a closer review of the actual facts illustrates just how questionable the Board’s finding really is. In response to safety concerns, an employer decided to replace its old harvesting equipment with newer (and safer) equipment. The company scheduled a meeting to introduce its employees to the new equipment. One employee claimed this his supervisor instructed him “not to speak at all” during the meeting about his opinion that the new equipment would slow workers down (and thus negatively affect piece-rate wages). The supervisor, on the other hand, denied so instructing the employee, and said that he merely cautioned the employee against using profanity during the meeting. While there was evidence to support both parties’ accounts, the Board sided with the employee.

What This Means for Employers:

It is important for employers to understand that the outcome of this case, as is true for many cases before the ALRB, boiled down to which side could present their version of the facts more credibly in the eyes of the Board. Of course, it is also important to understand that the ALRB has historically displayed a strong tendency to credit employees’ over employers’ accounts. Therefore, it is critical that agricultural employers understand the importance of being proactive and taking the steps necessary to avoid getting entangled with the Board in the first place. This involves a deep understanding of the ALRB and its regulations. In addition, California agricultural employers should consider training their management on compliance with the Act and immediately retaining experienced labor counsel when dealing with issues involving the Board. Contact Barsamian & Moody if you any questions about compliance with the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should neither be interpreted as, nor construed as legal advice or opinion. The reader should consult with Barsamian & Moody at (559) 248-2360 for individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation.