For farmers in Washington, it's hard to know which L&I rules and changes are the most important to your operation. For 2024, there are four significant updates to be aware of and two changes from 2023 worth keeping front-of-mind.
Permanent wildfire smoke rules
L&I has finally completed rule-making and the permanent wildfire smoke safety rules go into effect January 15. These changes are in effect year-round (including winter!), though the agency has stated that "L&I will not cite employers unless the PM2.5 includes emissions from wildfires. Guidance will be provided to DOSH Compliance Staff in the form of a DOSH Directive." In addition, they have added some additional air quality action levels for communication, and hazard protection. The full list of action levels is now:
AQI 69: Communicate AQI to farmworkers & you are encouraged to provide respirators.
AQI 101: Communicate AQI to farmworkers & you are required to provide respirators, but usage is voluntary.
AQI 301: Communicate AQI to farmworkers & you are required to distribute respirators, but usage is still voluntary.
AQI 500: Communicate AQI to farmworkers & you are required to distribute respirators, and usage is required.
Beyond the AQI: Communicate AQI to farmworkers & you are required to provide and use advanced respirators.
As you can see there are a few more levels of action in the rules. This means more opportunities for noncompliance and citations/fines from L&I. In addition, the burden of checking air quality is increasing, requiring management to train and make sure crew bosses are aware of these additional levels. If you are worried about ensuring compliance check out our automated wildfire smoke alerts. Harvust continuously monitors the air quality at your ranches and sends alerts directly to farm employees' phones when these levels are reached. Our system is always updated to the latest regulations so you don't have to worry about it.
The agriculture overtime threshold is lowered to 40 hours
Not a whole lot to this other than recognizing that the state now considers farming to abide by the same work schedule as white-collar work. You can check out the L&I resource page for more info. This makes time control even more critical as the industry transitions to shift-work and other creative arrangements. FieldClock, our official time tracking partner, can help out by giving you real-time visibility on your labor spend and timing.
The minimum wage is going up to $16.28
This is a 3.4% increase over 2023. Inflation is taken into account as part of the calculation. Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country. Remember to update your accounting system, and time tracking system (like FieldClock!) on January 1 (even if you're in the middle of a pay cycle)!
Overtime exempt salary threshold is going up
The new salary minimum in 2024 will be $1,302.40/week ($67,724.80 a year). F700-207-000 Overtime Rules Implementation Schedule (wa.gov) Thanks Sean Worley at Stokes Lawrence law firm in Yakima for pointing this one out! Could be easily forgotten especially since agriculture overtime rules have moved formerly hourly employees into salaried roles.
2023, things to remember...
Temporary Worker Housing rules now require allowing union representatives on-site
They sneaked this in as part of the recently adopted (November 2023) rules for communicable disease safety. The new rules create a "Community-based outreach worker" defined as a "A legal aid representative, a union representative, or a representative from other community-based advocacy organizations." They are allowed to provide "education to occupants about public health, safety, and worker's rights". However, they must arrange with you or the operator of the housing site ahead of time. After a time and place are agreed upon, they are required to check in with a member of your staff when they arrive. Here is the rule language as adopted. For advice on making sure your housing is compliant, or any other housing-specific rules get in touch with wafla our H-2A partner, and an expert in housing and labor relations.
Outdoor heat rule
Just a reminder that a permanent heat rule was adopted last year and, like the smoke rule, is in effect year-round for all agricultural operations. It similarly has multiple action levels (e.g., written policy requirements, additional rest breaks, etc.). Again, if you want automatic compliance with the communication section of the rules, Harvust has automated high-heat alerts. When we launched the heat alerts it was our most popular release with 65 growers turning it on with one click on the first day.