Some Alabama farmers are paying shady vendors big bucks for federally mandated labor law posters that can be obtained free from the Web or by mail from several state and federal agencies.

The fact was driven home to Hal Pepper several days ago after receiving a letter warning producers they faced “criminal and civil liability penalties” if they failed to post certain work-related posters.

“The letter turned out to be a sales pitch for a laminated color version for these posters for $59.50 plus $5.75 for shipping,” says Pepper, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System farm business economist based in Autaugaville.

Pepper, who had “never heard of folks having to buy these posters,” did some investigating and learned that one of these posters dealing with minimum wage can be downloaded off the Web by logging onto the Department of Labor's site:

http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/posters/flsa.htm. Federal and state posters also are available at the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations Web site: http://dir.alabama.gov/.

While conceding that poster requirements make for “extremely dry” subject matter, Pepper says it's important for farmers throughout the state to know about this scam.

“While researching this, I learned of at least one farmer who paid big bucks for laminated versions of these posters,” he says.

Two federal posters that farmers are required to display include the Migrant Seasonal Protection Act, a poster in English and Spanish that explains workers' legal rights, and the Fair Labor Standards Act that states the current minimum wage and provides information about time and a half payments exceeding the standard 40-hour week. Agriculture is specifically exempted from time and a half rules.

In addition, employers with 15 or more workers are required to display the poster titled “Equal Employment is the Law.”

If a farmer employs more than 50 workers, he is also required to post the Family Medical Leave Act, which states that the worker is entitled for up to 12 weeks paid medical leave after being employed for a year.

Farmers also are required to post payday time and place information for migrant workers only. They are also required by the Migrant Seasonal Worker Protection Act to provide a detailed pay stub to employees. The pay stub must provide number of hours worked, appropriate piece-rate information and other details.

A business must employ at least five workers before it is required to carry Worker's Compensation. However, farmers are not required to carry worker's compensation on farm laborers regardless of the number.

Sod farm employees, however, are not classified as farm laborers. If the sod farm operation is subject to workers' compensation, the operator is required to post a Worker's Compensation Notice.

In cases where the business is subject to unemployment compensation requirements, the operator must also display a poster titled “Your Job Insurance.”