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Worm farm exempted from paying overtime

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No one in the real world is ever likely to think of raising worms as agriculture, but a court decision last week illustrates that there is sometimes a clear divide between the real and legal worlds.

Caught in that divide are two workers on a rural Tennessee worm farm who were seeking overtime pay. The issue in the case was the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay covered workers overtime for time worked in excess of 40 hours, but also provides certain exemptions, including agriculture. It does not, however, explicitly exempt worm farming.

In analyzing the case, the opinion by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals in Cincinnati in John Barks and Brenda Hoffman et al. v. Silver Bait L.L.C. tells you more than anyone except possibly the most fanatic of fisherman would ever want to know about raising worms.

It then tackles the issue of whether raising worms is agriculture, before concluding it does. “The raising and growing of bait worms — at least as practiced by Silver Bait — shares much in common with traditional farming,” such as raising animals for sale as a commodity, says the ruling.

Nor was the unanimous three-judge panel apparently the least bit deterred by the fact that the worms are not going to wind up on anyone's dinner plate.

“The worms' intended use as bait also does not deprive them of their agricultural character,” says the three-judge panel's unanimous decision, which upholds a ruling by the U.S. District Court Chattanooga, Tennessee.