Because undocumented immigrants tend to be willing to work for less money than naturalized or natural-born citizens, they are often engaged in the most dangerous types of work, like construction and agriculture. In fact, in California, they make up more than 75% of the agricultural workforce. Despite that danger, fear can often prevent undocumented workers from exercising their rights to file personal injury and worker’s compensation claims.
Undocumented workers, though, are protected by federal and state law. As long as they are employed, they have the same labor rights as United States citizens, except the right to join a union.
If you, a friend or loved one have suffered a work-related injury, but are an undocumented immigrant, you should seek legal help. At Conexion Legal, we provide free legal advice, and can connect you to California immigration lawyers who specialize in labor law. Simply call 1-800-201-1220, or write to us through WhatsApp.
Risks of an undocumented worker filing a claim
Being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
The threat of deportation hangs over the head of every undocumented worker, especially in industries — like agriculture — where employers are more apt to exploit that fear in order to cut corners when it comes to worker safety and pay.
California leads the nation in income derived from agriculture, which employs 10% of the state’s workforce. Because so much of that workforce is made up of undocumented workers, they have gained a great measure of protection in state law.
In California, it is explicitly forbidden to report or to threaten to report an undocumented worker to ICE. The California Labor Code protects an employee, regardless of their legal status, and violation of that code can result in the revocation of the company’s operating license.
If an undocumented worker faces a change in job status — a decrease in pay, a change in work shifts, a new job assignment, a change in duties, a demotion or being passed over for a promotion — because they filed a claim, filed a report of illegal practices or reported unsafe working conditions, that is considered retaliation.
In California, it is just as illegal for an employer to retaliate against an undocumented immigrant as it is for them to retaliate against a naturalized or natural-born citizen.
Dismissal or termination
Dismissal or termination of a contract as punishment is considered retaliation. If the undocumented worker can prove that the action was not influenced by economic or disciplinary factors, it qualifies as unjustified dismissal, and can be grounds for a wrongful termination suit. Remember: Civil courts (where this claim would be filed) do not take into account a person’s immigration status, nor do they share information with government immigration agencies.
How should an undocumented worker prepare to file a claim?
Seeking legal advice should be your first step. Immigration and labor attorneys in Conexion Legal’s network — including Spanish-speaking attorneys — can educate you on the risks and the legal processes involved when a claimant is an undocumented worker. These cases can be complex, as employers can claim they were ignorant to the worker’s immigration status, or that false identity documents were used.