Overview

Protections For Meat-Processing Workers

The act provides protections for meat-processing workers, including employees, independent contractors and persons hired through a temporary service or staffing agency. Meat-processing workers are those who, while doing work for a meat-processing employer:  work directly in contact with raw meatpacking products in a meatpacking operation; inspect or package meatpacking products; or clean, maintain or sanitize equipment or surfaces.

Applicable Employers

“Meatpacking operation” or “meat-processing employer” means a meatpacking or poultry processing site with 100 or more employees in Minnesota and a North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code of 311611 to 311615, excluding NAICS code 311613.

Meatpacking operation or meat-processing employer does not include a grocery store, butcher shop, meat market, deli, restaurant or other business preparing meatpacking products for immediate consumption or for sale in a retail establishment or otherwise directly to an end-consumer.

Role of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry

The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) enforces the act, including inspecting, reviewing and recommending improvements to the practices and procedures of meatpacking operations in Minnesota. A meat-processing employer must grant DLI full access to all meatpacking operations in the state at any time that meatpacking products are being processed or meat-processing workers are on the job.

DLI is required to appoint a meatpacking industry worker rights coordinator. DLI’s worker rights coordinator must notify relevant employers of the act and any recent updates at least annually.

Health and Safety

Ergonomics Committee

Meat-processing employers must have an ergonomics program developed and implemented by a committee of individuals who are knowledgeable about the tasks and work processes performed by workers at the employer’s facility. The committee must include:

  • a certified professional ergonomist;
  • a licensed, board-certified physician, with preference given to a physician who has specialized experience and training in occupational medicine; and
  • at least three workers employed in the employer’s facility who have completed a general industry outreach course approved by DLI, one of whom must be a union representative if the employer is party to a collective bargaining agreement.

If it is impractical for a certified professional ergonomist or a licensed, board-certified physician to be a member of the committee, the meatpacking employer must have its ergonomics program reviewed by a certified professional ergonomist and a licensed, board-certified physician prior to implementation of the program and annually thereafter.

New Tasks

When a worker is assigned a new task, meaning the worker has no previous work experience doing that task, a meat-processing employer must train that worker about:

  • how to safely perform the task;
  • the ergonomic and other hazards associated with the task; and
  • the early signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal injuries and the procedures for reporting them.

The employer must give a worker an opportunity within 30 days of receiving the new-task training to receive refresher training about the topics covered in the new-task training. The employer must provide this training in a language and with vocabulary the employee can understand.

Annual Training

Meat-processing employers must provide each worker at least eight hours of safety training each year. The annual training must address health and safety topics relevant to the establishment and the worker’s job assignment, such as cuts, lacerations, amputations, machine guarding, biological hazards, lockout/tagout, hazard communication, ergonomic hazards and personal protective equipment. At least two of the eight hours of annual training must be about topics related to the facility’s ergonomic injury prevention program, including the assessment of surveillance data, the ergonomic hazard prevention and control plan, and the early signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders and the procedures for reporting them. The employer must provide this training in a language and with vocabulary the employee can understand.

Medical Services and Qualifications

Meat-processing employers must ensure:

  • all first-aid providers, medical assistants, nurses and physicians engaged by the employer are licensed and perform their duties within the scope of their licensed practice;
  • medical management of musculoskeletal disorders is under direct supervision of a licensed physician specializing in occupational medicine who will advise about best practices for management and prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders; and
  • medical management of musculoskeletal injuries follows the most current version of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine practice guidelines.

Meat-processing employers must not institute or maintain any program, policy or practice that discourages employees from reporting injuries, hazards or safety standards violations.

Pandemic Protections

The act requires enhanced health, safety and sanitation measures during a peacetime public health emergency that involves airborne transmission. These measures involve, but are not limited to, the following:

  • physical distancing and barriers;
  • face masks and shields at no cost to the employee;
  • hand sanitation;
  • disinfecting the workplace;
  • ventilation systems; and
  • personal protective equipment at no cost to the employee.

Meat-processing employers must provide training about the proper use of personal protective equipment, safety procedures and sanitation.

Meat-processing employers must record all injuries and illnesses in the facility and make these records available upon request to the health and safety committee, DLI and union representatives.

Break Time

Meat-processing employers must provide adequate break time for workers to use the bathroom, wash their hands, and don and doff protective equipment.

Refusal to Work Under Dangerous Conditions

A meat-processing worker has the right to refuse to work under dangerous conditions. Any worker who refuses to work under dangerous conditions shall continue to receive pay and shall not be subject to discrimination.

Notifications

Meat-processing employers must provide written information and notifications about employee rights under the act to workers in their language of fluency at least annually. If a worker is unable to understand written information and notifications, the employer must verbally provide such information and notices in the worker’s language of fluency.

DLI has prepared a sample employee notice that employers can use. It is available in English, Hmong, Somali, Spanish and Russian on the Workplace notices and posters page.

Retaliation Prohibited

No meat-processing employer or other person may discharge or discriminate against a worker because the worker has raised a concern about a meatpacking operation’s health and safety practices to the employer or otherwise exercised any right authorized under Minnesota’s Occupational Safety and Health Act.

No meat-processing employer or other person may attempt to require any worker to sign a contract or other agreement that would limit or prevent the worker from disclosing information about workplace health and safety practices or hazards, or to otherwise abide by a workplace policy that would limit or prevent such disclosures. Any such agreements or policies are void and unenforceable. An employer’s attempt to impose such a contract, agreement or policy is itself a violation of the act.

Reporting or threatening to report a meat-processing worker’s suspected citizenship or immigration status, or the suspected citizenship or immigration status of a family member – including a spouse, parent, sibling, child, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, cousin, grandparent or grandchild related by blood, adoption, marriage or domestic partnership – of the worker, to a federal, state or local agency because the worker exercises a right under the act is itself a violation of the act.

Enforcement

DLI Authority

DLI, either on its own initiative or in response to a complaint, may inspect a meatpacking operation and subpoena records and witnesses to investigate compliance with the act.

DLI may issue a compliance order requiring an employer to comply with certain provisions of the act.

DLI also has authority to issue a stop-work or business-closure order when there is a condition or practice that could result in death or serious physical harm.

Attorney General Authority

The attorney general may enforce the act under Minnesota Statutes, section 8.31.

Private Civil Action

If a meat-processing employer does not comply with the act, an aggrieved worker, union representative or other person may file a lawsuit within three years of an alleged violation.

Whistleblower Enforcement

In certain circumstances, a private civil action to enforce the act may be brought on behalf of DLI by any individual, including an authorized employee representative.

First, written notice must be given to DLI’s worker rights coordinator of the specific provisions of the act that were allegedly violated. Then, the individual or representative organization may commence a civil action if no enforcement action is taken by DLI within 30 days.

The right to bring a whistleblower lawsuit shall not be impaired by a private contract.

Relief

In a civil action or administrative proceeding brought to enforce the act, the act requires a court or DLI to order relief consistent with the following.

  • For any violation of sections of the act:
    • (1) an injunction to order compliance and restrain continued violations;
    • (2) payment to a prevailing worker by a meat-processing employer of reasonable costs, disbursements and attorney fees; and
    • (3) a civil penalty payable to the state of not less than $100 per day per worker affected by the meat-processing employer’s noncompliance with the act. In a civil whistleblower action brought on behalf of DLI, 70% of the civil penalty amount is payable to DLI, while 30% is payable to the person who brought the lawsuit.
  • Any worker who brings a complaint under the act and suffers retaliation is entitled to treble damages in addition to lost pay and recovery of attorney fees and costs.
  • Any company that is found to have retaliated against a meat-processing worker must pay a fine of up to $10,000 to DLI, in addition to other penalties available under the law.

Additional resources

To review the language of the act, see Minnesota Statutes, sections 179.87 to 179.877.

For questions about the act, contact DLI’s Labor Standards Division at:  Labor Standards Division, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, 443 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN  55155; 651-284-5075; or [email protected].