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February 2012 Archive for Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Three Must-Do Labor Management Tasks for Dairy Producers in 2012

Feb 16, 2012

Here’s good advice on I-9 compliance, employee handbooks and improved communication with your employees.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney
For this post, I want to depart from my usual discussion of immigration-specific labor issues and offer to you three items for your operations review. 
  1. 1.       Make Sure That You Are Complying With I-9 Requirements. 
Recently, Anthony Raimondo wrote a very good article on reviewing I-9 records and procedures that all producers should read. I don't want to rehash all that he wrote. In fact, my recommendation is very basic. 
Take some time to ensure that your farm is obtaining all required I-9 form from workers on your farm. Federal law requires that you complete an I-9 form each time that you hire any person to provide labor or services in the United States in return for wages or other remuneration. 
This requirement is perhaps the most basic statement of the law on employment eligibility verification. I suspect that the vast majority of readers are already aware of this requirement. In the past year, however, I spoke directly with three different farmers who were unaware of the requirement to verify employment eligibility for all employees. Even if you employ only a few employees that you personally know to be United States citizens, or even if you have no Hispanic employees, the I-9 requirements apply to your business. Incidentally, if you are not a producer, know that these requirements apply to all employers, not just farms. So many small businesses are unaware of these specific requirements because they haven't been told by their accountant, attorney or other consultant of them. Sometimes the question is simply not addressed. Other times, compliance is presumed. 
Do yourself a big favor this year. If you are even a little unsure if you are in compliance, find out. A very good resource, in addition to this blog, is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Handbook for Employers.

2.       Review (or Create) an Employee Manual.

Every employer should have a basic employee manual, handbook or procedures guide. This manual should set forth all of the policies and procedures related to employment. It should spell out your policies on attendance, job descriptions, expected performance, and related issues. Depending on your individual situation, it might also explain employee discipline, policies on sexual harassment, and policies in discrimination. 
In addition to these "employment issues," many farms have begun to develop written procedures for the expectations of employees when milking, feeding, moving animals, administering medications, handling hospital pens, withholding times for sick animals, culling cows, and general animal husbandry, among other areas. Basic guidelines for many of these areas can be found online, through cooperatives or trade groups, or by contacting your state extension. For other topics, it may be advisable to contact an employment attorney. 
The principal benefit of developing a manual of policies and procedures is that employees will know your expectations--if you see that the manual is reviewed with employees. Once you have your manual decoupled or reviewed, take the next important step. Personally review the manual with your workers, new and existing. Spend a few hours discussing both the contents and the reasons underlying your expectations. Answer the employees' questions. Make sure that all employees understand that the manual is not a collection of goals and ideals but are expectations aimed at having a safe workplace, healthy cows, and a productive operation. Review the manual periodically yourself and with all employees.

3.        Make It a Goal To Improve Communication With Employees.

Communicating about an employee manual is only one area where workers need your input. One professional who works closely with producers and their employees related to me that too many employees think that the owner of the farm doesn't really care. Well, we know that isn't the case in most operations. But this is one instance where perception is reality. If your employees believe that you don't really care about quality, then for all intents and purposes, you don't care. 
Especially as operations get larger, either in terms of cows or diversification across the farm's products, farm owners necessarily rely on managers to communicate expectations to lower level workers. In doing so, make sure that you don't become too distanced from your employees. As an example, consider the ubiquitous dry-erase board in the milking parlor where messages are relayed to milkers. The dry-erase board is a good tool but a lousy substitute for real communication and instruction. Don't allow Sharpie markers to become your only interaction with workers. Important issues deserve face time, real instruction, and explanation. Not only will your message be better understood, but your employees will appreciate the expression of importance.
From a risk standpoint, one of the producer's single largest risks is the disgruntled employee. How can you avoid the angry (and possibly vengeful) worker? Simply talk to him. Not only when a problem arises but throughout the year. How many employees do you have on your farm? And how long would it take to spend one hour with each--30 minutes on the job, 30 minutes in your office? Not long in the overall picture. 
Observe. Instruct, in a constructive manner. Ask genuinely about worker concerns and areas where the worker sees areas for operational improvement. Invest in the human capital of your operation. Explain how the farm's goals at reducing cell counts or increasing production affect employees. Consider incentivizing, if appropriate. 
Happy workers result in a farm operating at high efficiency and fewer labor problems over the long run. 
Have any other suggestions for labor management you wish to share? Leave your comments below for other producers to review.
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at

No-Match Letters Quietly Suspended

Feb 13, 2012

The Social Security Administration has not indicated whether or not it will resume sending no-match letters in spring 2012. Employers must stay alert for changes.

Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony P. Raimondo
Quietly, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has suspended sending no-match letters to employers. No-match letters inform an employer that an employee’s name and Social Security number do not match the information in the SSA database. In recent years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sought to use employers’ response (or failure to respond) to no-match letters as evidence that the employer knew or should have known of an employee’s lack of legal status.
Nonetheless, employers who received no-match letters in 2007 must be sure to follow up on them. After verifying that there was no error in the employer’s records, the employee must be directed to resolve the issue with SSA, and should be given a time frame of 90 to 120 days to do so. In addition, if the problem Social Security Number (SSN) was used to verify the employee’s status on the I-9 form, then the I-9 form must be re-verified without the problem SSN.
There remain additional issues that can arise with employee SSNs. It is very common for employers to receive garnishments or other notices in the name of an individual who is not an employee, but with a SSN that matches an employee. In such cases, the employer cannot assume that their employee is using a false SSN; it is equally plausible that the employee has been the victim of identity theft. In such cases, the employer should write to the agency that contacted them and notify them that they cannot confirm whether the employee is the person the agency is looking for. The employee should be notified of the incident in writing, and should be directed to resolve it and report back any information that needs to be updated.
DHS continues to aggressively enforce immigration laws against employers. In Texas, two businesses were forced to forfeit $2 million in revenue derived from products produced with a workforce that had a high percentage of undocumented workers. The key evidence included failures to follow up on no-match letters, poor quality I-9 forms and acceptance of identification documents that were obviously false. In San Diego, a baker’s owner and manager were convicted of felonies. The baker forfeited almost $110,000 in revenue and paid over $275,000 in fines. The company routinely rehired people with unresolved no-match letters, and was careless in following the I-9 process. 
It remains essential for the I-9 forms to be absolutely perfect in order to avoid immigration violations. Employer should carefully look over documents, and make sure not to accept documents that have obvious issues, such as misspelled agency names or stamps stating “Novelty Item” (both of these issues occurred in the Texas cases). SSA has not indicated whether or not it will resume sending no-match letters in spring 2012, and employers must be alert for change at any time. Employers can protect themselves from immigration violations but must be alert and proactive to ensure compliance. 
The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at McCormick Barstow LLP in Fresno, at (559)433-1300.

What Motivates Your Dairy Employees?

Feb 06, 2012

Dairy managers may think they know what employees want for their happiness in the workplace, but there is evidence to the contrary.

Higgenbotham photo   CopyBy Gerald Higginbotham, Ph.D., University of California-Cooperative Extension
In conversing with dairy managers, their usual complaint is their labor force. When these individuals are asked what motivates their employees to do a good job every day, the usual response is, “They will be fired if they don’t perform well. That is motivation enough.”
Their statements may be true, but is employee performance really improved with the threat of termination? Dairy employees already have the desire and capability to become top performers. The challenge for dairy managers is to create a workplace environment where employees can truly achieve their true potential and be motivated to do so.  
Motivation has been defined as a predisposition to behave in a purposeful manner to achieve specific, unmet needs, the will to achieve, and the inner force that drives individuals to accomplish personal and organizational goals. Motivated employees are needed more than ever in the dairy industry, especially in these difficult economic times.
Dairy managers may think they know what employees want for their happiness in the workplace, but there is evidence to the contrary. Researchers at George Mason University did a study comparing what employees wanted, and what the employer thought the employees wanted. The results of how each group ranked the desires are as follows:
Employees’ Rank
Employer’s Rank
Interesting work
Appreciation of work
Feeling “in on things”
Job security
Good wages
Good working conditions
Personal loyalty
Tactful discipline
Sympathetic help with problems


As shown from this study, money isn’t the sole criteria for which employees will perform well.

Here are some possible pointers on how to help your employees to be more motivated to do the best job possible:
1.       Be the example. The manager’s attitude can set the tone for the rest of the employees. Good managers consider their employees as part of the team and communicate with them on decisions that may affect them. It is important to listen to everyone’s opinions, and be receptive to their input. Employees are more motivated when they feel needed, appreciated and valued.
2.       Focus on employee happiness rather than employee motivation. Dairy employees work long hours and spend a considerable amount of time away from their families. They may miss important events that their children are participating in. Communicate with your workers to understand their family needs so accommodations can be made for them to attend the more important family functions.
3.       Let employees share in the dairy’s success. Employee performance, productivity and motivation can be associated with how well a worker feels part of the dairy team. Various employee incentives can be tied to milk production, reproduction, calf raising, etc. These incentive programs can give the employee a sense that he/she is part of the team and rewarded as such.
4.       Encourage your workers to voice complaints. Your workers are your eyes and ears of your operation. Let them convey if a certain practice is not providing the efficiencies your operation requires. Workers may feel that they will be retaliated against for complaining when they can actually be an asset if a certain management system needs be modified.
If you are currently facing high employee turn-over rates, it might be time to re-assess your labor management program. Doing so may help to improve your employees’ performance on your dairy, as well as their satisfaction with their job.
Dr. Gerald Higginbotham is a Dairy Advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension Service for Fresno and Madera Counties.  He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah and Ph.D degree from the University of Arizona.  Dr. Higginbotham is a member of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists and is a diplomat of the American College of Animal Sciences. Contact him at 559-675-7879, Ext 209 or


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