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The Ag Law Harvest

By:Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Program Coordinator, Income Tax Schools Friday, May 31st, 2024
Department of Labor Website

With Memorial Day behind us, the unofficial start of summer is here, and we are back to bring you another edition of the Ag Law Harvest. In this Harvest we discuss OSHA’s proposed workplace heat hazard standards, DOL’s new H-2A Farmworker rule, an interesting income tax credit in Colorado, and a proposal to limit Ohio property tax increases. 

OSHA Advances Proposed Rule to Mitigate Workplace Heat Hazards.  
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced that it is advancing a proposed rule to mitigate workplace heat hazards, following unanimous approval from an advisory committee. The rule aims to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and fatalities, particularly in agriculture. While OSHA works to finalize the proposed rule, OSHA “continues to direct significant existing outreach and enforcement resources to educate employers and workers and hold businesses accountable for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause, 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1) and other applicable regulations.” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker explained that as OSHA moves through the regulatory process, “OSHA will use all of its existing tools to hold employers responsible when they fail to protect workers from known hazards such as heat. . .” Since 2022, OSHA's National Emphasis Program has conducted nearly 5,000 inspections to proactively address heat-related hazards in workplaces with high heat exposure. The agency prioritizes inspections in agricultural industries employing temporary H-2A workers, who face unique vulnerabilities. Employers are reminded that they are legally required to protect workers from heat exposure by providing cool water, breaks, shade, and acclimatization periods for new or returning workers. Training for both workers and managers on heat illness prevention is also essential.

Department of Labor Finalizes and Publishes Rule Enhancing Protections for H-2A Farmworkers. 
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced a final rule to strengthen protections for H-2A farmworkers. The new rule titled “Improving Protections for Workers in Temporary Agricultural Employment in the United States” includes the following provisions: 

  • Adding new protections for worker self-advocacy: The final rule enhances worker advocacy by expanding anti-retaliation protections and allowing self-organization and concerted activities. Workers can decline attending employer-led meetings that discourage union participation. The rule permits workers to consult legal and other key service providers and meet them in employer-furnished housing. Additionally, workers can invite guests, including labor organizations, to their employer-provided housing.
  • Clarifying “for cause” termination: The final rule clarifies that a worker is not “terminated for cause” unless the worker is terminated for failure to comply with an employer’s policies or fails to adequately perform job duties in accordance with reasonable expectations based on criteria listed in the job offer. Additionally, the rule identifies five conditions that must be met in order to ensure that disciplinary and/or termination processes are justified and reasonable: These five conditions are: (1) the worker has been informed, in a language understood by the worker, of the policy, rule, or performance expectation; (2) compliance with the policy, rule, or performance expectation is within the worker’s control; (3) the policy, rule, or performance expectation is reasonable and applied consistently to H-2A workers and workers in corresponding employment; (4) the employer undertakes a fair and objective investigation into the job performance or misconduct; and (5) the employer corrects the worker’s performance or behavior using progressive discipline. 
  • Seat Belts: Any employer provided transportation must have seat belts if the vehicle was manufactured with seat belts. All passengers and the driver must be wearing seat belts before the vehicle can be driven. 
  • Ensuring timely wage changes for H-2A workers:  The final rule establishes that the effective date of updated adverse effect wage rates is the date of publication in the Federal Register. 
  • Passport Withholding: The final rule prohibits an employer from holding or confiscating a worker’s passport, visa, or other immigration or government identification documents. An employer may, however, hold a worker’s passport for safekeeping only if: (1) the worker voluntarily requests that the employer keep the documents safe; (2) the employer returns the documents to the worker immediately upon their request; (3) the employer did not direct the worker to submit the request; and (4) the worker states, in writing, that the three conditions listed above have been met. 

The final rule is effective on June 28, 2024. However, the DOL has made it clear that H-2A applications filed before August 28, 2024, will be subject to the current applicable federal regulations. Applications submitted on or after August 29, 2024, will be subject to the new rule. For more information, visit the DOL’s “H-2A Employer’s Guide to the Final Rule ‘Improving Protections for Workers in Temporary Agricultural Employment in the United States.’

Colorado Establishes State Income Tax Credit for Qualified Agricultural Stewardship Practices. 
Beginning in 2026 Colorado farmers and ranchers will be able to qualify for an income tax credit for actively engaging in conversation stewardship practices. The newly enacted legislation creates three different tiers of income tax credits. 

  • Tier 1: A state income tax credit equal to at least $5 and no more than $75 per acre of land covered by one qualified stewardship practice, up to a maximum of $150,000 per tax year. 
  • Tier 2: A state income tax credit equal to at least $10 and no more than $100 per acre of land covered by two qualified stewardship practices, up to a maximum of $200,000 per tax year.
  • Tier 3: A state income tax credit equal to at least $15 and no more than $150 per acre of land covered by at least three qualified stewardship practices, up to a maximum of $300,000 per tax year. 

However, only $3 million worth of tax credits can be issued in one tax year. Any claims for the tax credit beyond the $3 million dollars are placed on a waitlist in the order submitted and a certificate will be issued for use of the agricultural stewardship credit in the next income tax year. No more than $2 million in claims shall be placed on the waitlist in any given calendar year. Additionally, only one tax credit certificate may be issued per qualified taxpayer in a calendar year, and the taxpayer can only claim the credit for up to three income tax years. 

Ohio House of Representatives Proposes Joint Resolution to Limit Property Tax Increases for Ohio Property Owners. 
The Ohio House of Representatives have proposed to enact a new section in Article I of Ohio’s Constitution. Section 23 would limit property tax increases on Ohioans. Under the proposed change, the amount of real property taxes levied on a parcel of property cannot exceed the amount of tax levied on that parcel in the preceding year plus the rate of inflation or four percent, whichever is lower. There are some exceptions that allow a one-time increase in property tax liability in excess of the four percent limit. The exceptions include: (1) when a parcel is divided; (2) the expiration of a tax exemption, abatement, or credit that applied to the parcel in the preceding year; or (3) when a building is completed or significantly improved and is added to the tax list on the parcel. We will continue to closely monitor how the proposed resolution fares in committee and beyond. If the resolution passes both chambers of the Ohio Legislature, the proposed change would be voted on in the November 5, 2024, election.