Wilner & O'Reilly, APLC
One Practice. One Focus. One Passion: Immigration Law.

Evolving rights of undocumented workers in California

The California Supreme Court recently handed down an important ruling in favor of undocumented immigrant employees, which states that undocumented immigrants now have the legal right to sue their employers for certain illegal activities. Now under California law, if an employer reports an undocumented employee to immigration authorities as retaliation for a lawsuit or for reporting illegal treatment in the workplace, the business of that employer could lose its license, and the employer could face charges of criminal extortion.

Previously, undocumented immigrants have avoided reporting their employers for fear of deportation. As one undocumented employee stated, he was afraid to come forward about his employer's refusal to pay him because he did not want to create larger problems in the future. The employee, who worked in a local restaurant, noted that the communities in which he was working are small, and industry employers tend to know each other. The employee feared that if he stood up for his rights to fair wages, other potential employers would retaliate against him as well.

According to a National Employment Law Project survey, 37 percent of undocumented immigrants have received less than the minimum wage. Seventy-six percent of undocumented immigrants said that they had performed work without being paid at all. Nonetheless, some companies may feel that allowing undocumented employees to sue for compensatory damages conflicts with federal immigration laws.

Immigration rights advocates are hoping that the new California laws will encourage employees to report instances of workplace abuse, but some workers may not even be aware of their employee rights in the first place. Employment immigration attorneys could help undocumented immigrants by consulting with them about any suspected wage and hour or other workplace violations.

Source: KQED, "Undocumented Immigrants Still Mistreated by Employers Despite New Laws", September 08, 2014

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