Best Practices for Safely Onboarding Farmworkers During COVID

January 1, 2024

In agriculture, we see a diverse population of people each year and the amount of time worked may range from one day to the entire year or even years to come. Each new and returning team member needs paperwork and training that can be time-consuming on its own. When you add in the social distancing guidelines, this can make for a tricky situation. Farms that are used to hiring hundreds of temporary employees on their farm in one day will no longer be able to accommodate large groups of people safely. In this post you’ll find tips to help your farms successfully hire and rehire team members in a way that saves time and keeps yourself and all of your employees safe from COVID.  

Planning & Preparing 

The most important piece of information you will need to know is the number of hires that need to be brought on to your farm. The earlier you get that number from management, the more time you have to plan your hiring events. The next set of information you will need to look at is the state or county-wide regulations in place for COVID safety. Remember that worksites in different counties may have different regulations in place. Be sure to identify each precaution that needs to be taken, take the steps to put guards in place, and do this for each individual hiring site. Review all spaces that you have used for hiring on your farm, be sure to identify areas that you may not have considered before. As spring approaches, more opportunities arise for hiring to take place outside. Ensure ample spacing by measuring a six feet distance between each “station”. We recommend marking the layout with tape to ensure that social distancing is followed at all times. Having complementary masks available may also help you from turning hires away for a lack of masks. It is also recommended that you have visual aids posted around your hiring areas about social distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing instructions. 


Pro-tip: By using Harvust you can move your hiring to a paperless platform. This means no passing of papers and spreading germs. No sanitizing tables, pens, and clipboards in-between cohort groups. Contact Harvust today to learn more: support@harvust.com 

Scheduling

Once you have a space that can accommodate your hires or a schedule of hires over a couple of days, you are ready to start planning the schedule. This entails breaking down your hiring process; what steps can be adapted to provide the most efficient hiring experience? We recommend working to identify bottlenecks or places where hires are spending a lot of time waiting. Look at the differences in the amount of time it takes to rehire an employee versus onboarding someone who has never worked for you before. Identify differences within paperwork, orientation, and safety. Reaching out to other departments within your company for assistance may help you with easier setup or even faster internet speeds. We recommend at least reaching out to your facilities and IT department prior to finalizing your schedule.


Pro-tip: Don’t forget to schedule bathroom and lunch breaks for yourself and your office crew. A long day of data entry without breaks is more likely to result in data entry mistakes. 

Build a Hiring Kit 

Have your hiring kit ready weeks in advance. This allows you to jump on last-minute hiring without hesitation. Have copies of I-9’s, W-4’s and company policies. Include pens and cleaning supplies to sanitize those materials.  This is a great place to store complimentary masks and anything else that needs to be given to the employees that are hired. Include extension cords, Wifi boosters, tape, visual aids, computer chargers and more to leave less room for inconveniences. We recommend preparing a checklist for any other materials that need to be taken but are used on a daily basis. The earlier and harder you work to prepare for your hiring events, the less likely they are to surprise or overwhelm you or your office staff.  


Pro-tip: Pens, clipboards and anything else touched by more than one person should be sanitized prior to a second use.

Plan for Problems

We can’t always foresee a problem coming. However, we do know the nature of the business that we work in. If a bus or van of workers is late it is highly likely that your hiring schedule will need to be flexible. This is where all of your planning ahead of time will come in handy. Having an “overflow” or extra hiring day may save you from losing employees. Keep in mind that we live in a job-rich agriculture environment. If a potential employee leaves your farm it is very likely that they will find another farm down the road that has availability. The more efficiently you can hire and train your employees the more successful your current and future hiring events will be.

COVID Safety Recommendations 

I-9 verification, data entry - Place plexiglass or clear shower curtains between employee & hiring managers whenever possible. This is most important during your I-9 verification process and any data entry that needs to be done. 

Gloves - We recommend any office employees that will be processing paperwork wear gloves and use sanitizer on the gloves after handling paperwork. Remind employees to wash their hands and change gloves if they touch their faces.  

Tape down the floor plan - To ensure that social distancing guidelines are being followed, tape out your floor plan. Clearly mark where each hire is supposed to sit along with the path of travel and points of exit. Posting directional signs, and reminders about social distancing will also help enforcement. 

Open doors and windows - Keep doors and windows open to allow for as much clean airflow as possible. The spring is the perfect time of year to identify outdoor locations for hiring. Including your IT department in these conversations may provide the opportunity for you to discuss internet and power needs at outdoor locations.

Hire paperlessly - By using Harvust you can move your hiring to a paperless platform. This means no passing of papers and spreading germs. No sanitizing tables, pens, and clipboards in-between cohort groups. In the touch of a button, you can send your hiring packing, orientation & safety training straight to your employee’s phone! Leave the hiring to Harvust and watch your employees grow!


Now that you have taken all the steps to keep your current and new employees safe while hiring, you are ready to start a great season. Setting COVID expectations from the moment a farmworker steps on your farm is imperative. As the year continues we must remember to keep up to date with guidelines and offer all the support we can give our employees. 


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Author

Becca Groche

Becca is a seasoned HR professional with over six years of experience in agriculture and adjacent industries. Before joining Harvust, she provided her expertise as a frontline HR representative at a large Washington tree fruit company for nearly three years. Becca has lived the life of Harvust's customers and knows exactly what they need. She brings that insight and emotional intelligence to bear supporting and advising Harvust customers everyday.