There is a lot on the minds of undocumented immigrants in the U.S these days. On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, President Trump signed far-reaching executive orders on immigration designed to curb unauthorized entry into the U.S. and strengthen enforcement on “illegals” currently in the country.
These actions have caused understandable anxiety for those whose live and work in the U.S. without proper documentation. However, it is important to note that undocumented immigrants are not without legal rights, particularly if they have been subjected to unlawful practices by their employers.
Why are undocumented workers protected by employment laws?
No employer can knowingly hire a worker who does not have permission to work in the U.S. However, if undocumented workers had no employment rights, all workers would suffer. Failing to hold employers accountable would encourage businesses to hire as many undocumented workers as possible. Employers could then pay these workers below the minimum wage without fear of legal reprisals, subjecting them to substandard pay and working conditions.
That is why undocumented workers who bring wage and hour and discrimination claims are protected under state and federal law.
The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act regardless of the immigration status of the worker, and federal courts have interpreted the FLSA similarly. The same is true of the New York Labor Law, which is the law that sets and enforces wage and hour laws in New York.
In addition, all employees are protected against discrimination, including discrimination based on national origin, under federal and/or local laws. Some local laws, such as the New York City Human Rights Law, offers even more protection for workers than federal laws, such as protection from discrimination based on citizenship status. If a New York City employer discriminates against an employee based on their citizenship status or national origin, the employee can bring a legal claim and be compensated. Those who are not U.S. citizens and do not have legal documentation to work in the U.S. are still protected by these laws.
Proceeding cautiously is understandable if you are an undocumented worker. Still, that does not mean employers can take advantage of undocumented workers. For questions about your rights, contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your options.