During the harvest, many farmers and supervisors make their employees work very fast. The human body can’t handle too much work without a break, especially when it’s hot. Your health should be your priority. Take as many water and bathroom breaks as you need during the work hours.
You have the right to drink water when you need to. The employer is obligated to provide you with cool, drinking water and disposable cups. The water will help you prevent heat related illnesses (like dehydration and heat stroke), and the disposable cups will prevent the spread of diseases between workers.
The employer should also provide you with handwashing facilities, with water, soap, and paper towels, available at all times.
These facilities are very important to your health, especially since farmworkers frequently work in fields after pesticides and other chemicals have been applied. You should always wash your hands before eating, smoking, or using the toilet to protect yourself against pesticide exposure.
Finally, your employer must provide you with a portable toilet, in clean condition, with toilet paper available at all times. We have heard alarming stories of workers who prefer to go to the woods, instead of the bathroom, because the facilities are in such horrible conditions. This is not just dangerous to workers, who may for example get bit by snakes, but it is also dehumanizing!
All these facilities should be available to you 1/4 mile of where you are working.
If your employer does not have these facilities or give you and your co-workers enough time to use them, you can make a complaint to the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL). If you do not want your name revealed to your employer, NCDOL will keep your name confidential. The NCDOL investigators speak Spanish and are skilled at investigating worker complaints. They interview workers privately. They do not identify to the employer workers complain or give them information. NCDOL has the authority to make your employer comply with the law about field sanitation. Under North Carolina law, a worker who makes a complaint about field sanitation is protected against retaliation.
If you would like to make a complaint, you can call NCDOL directly at 1-800-NC-LABOR (1-800-625-2267) or you can call us at 1 (800)777-5869 so that we can help you to make a complaint.
When it’s about your health, don’t hesitate to make a complaint. Your future and the future of your family depend on your ability to work, and you will not be able to do it if you are sick!