What workplace violations are immigrants legally protected from?

Immigrant workers are protected from unsafe working conditions, inappropriate pay and employer retaliation regardless of their legal status.

Workers in the United States are granted numerous legal rights regarding pay, safety and protection from employer retaliation. Still, it is not uncommon for undocumented immigrants in Nashville to face working conditions that violate these rights. For example, workers have a right to a safe workplace, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that immigrants face a much higher risk of work-related injuries, health problems and death than all other workers.

Many immigrants may hesitate to take action to address these workers' rights violations because of their legal status. Fortunately, though, many protections are available to workers regardless of their immigration status.

Unpaid wages

The Fair Labor Standards Act entitles workers in most industries to minimum wages and pay for overtime hours worked, which must be disbursed on regular paydays. Employers also are prohibited from taking deductions for items such as employee uniforms if doing so will put the employee's non-overtime wages below the minimum wage. The provisions of the Act apply to immigrants even if they have not received work authorizations.

Unsafe conditions

Immigrant workers in most industries also have rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. All workers, save domestic workers who are employed directly by families, are entitled to take the following actions if they face unsafe working conditions or associated health problems:

  • Report complaints regarding workplace safety or health to the employer
  • File a claim with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Ask an employer for records of employee injury and exposure
  • Report a workplace injury

Workers also have the right to speak to OSHA inspectors or otherwise take part in official inspections of their workplace.

Employer retaliation

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers for exercising any of their rights as employees. Wrongful termination and any form of discrimination are both illegal. Similarly, employers may not report undocumented immigrants to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement to punish them for reporting workers' rights violations.

Requesting a visa

Immigrants who have experienced severe mistreatment in the workplace may have the option of applying for a U visa. These visas are granted to immigrants who have been the victims of specific crimes and who help authorities investigate or prosecute these offenses. For example, if an employer engaged in fraud in foreign labor contracting, which involves hiring someone from outside the U.S. to perform domestic labor under fraudulent pretenses, victims may be able to seek U visas.

Applying for a U visa is often a complex process. Consequently, people who are preparing to apply or assessing their other options for pursuing legal status should consider securing the advice of an attorney.