What Rights Do Undocumented Workers Have?

shadow of workers

Undocumented workers are an integral part of the workforce and global economy, but their legal rights often remain unclear and misunderstood. This leads to potential exploitation and mistreatment.

Whether you or someone you know is an undocumented worker, or you’re in a workplace with undocumented workers, these workers have an array of legal rights and protections regardless of their immigration status.

If you’re an undocumented worker who needs protection or compensation to ensure fair treatment and prevent unscrupulous employers from taking advantage of you, a knowledgeable and skilled Indianapolis workers compensation lawyer can help you explore labor laws, workplace protections, and avenues for justice.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

Employment Rights

Undocumented workers, just like any other worker in the United States, have the right to receive equal treatment under federal and state labor laws.

This means that employers must adhere to the same standards for all employees, regardless of their immigration status:

  • Minimum wage: You must receive at least the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher in your jurisdiction. Employers cannot underpay undocumented workers simply because of their status.
  • Overtime pay: Undocumented workers have the right to overtime pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek.
  • Rest breaks: Employers must provide rest breaks for all employees, including undocumented workers. Each state has specific break requirements.
  • Meal breaks: Employers must provide meal breaks to all employees, regardless of their immigration status.
  • Safe working conditions: Undocumented workers have the right to a safe and healthy work environment.

Undocumented workers have the same employment rights as any other employee in the United States. An attorney can help you understand and assert these rights in the workplace when necessary.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Discrimination in the workplace is unethical and often illegal. Undocumented workers have the same entitlements to federal, state, and local anti-discrimination protections as other employees.

Federal Protections

Federal laws that cover undocumented workers include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act: This act prevents workplace discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act: This law protects workers aged 40 and over from age-based discrimination.
  • State and local protections.

Anti-discrimination laws can vary by jurisdiction, and states may offer additional protection along with federal rules.

Some examples of state and local anti-discrimination laws include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Your lawyer can advise you on what protections may apply to you based on your location and circumstances.

Workers’ Compensation

If an undocumented worker suffers an injury on the job, they may still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits can help cover medical expenses and lost income due to a work-related injury or illness. Rules and benefits can vary by state, however.

Right to Organize

Undocumented workers also have the right to organize and advocate for better working conditions. The National Labor Relations Act provides protections to workers who engage in certain activities related to labor unions and collective bargaining. Undocumented workers have the right to form, join, or assist labor unions and to engage in collective bargaining with their employer.

Family and Medical Leave

In many cases, undocumented workers are eligible for unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This allows workers time off to address serious health conditions or family matters. This includes the birth or adoption of a child, caring for a close family member with a serious health condition, or dealing with your own serious health condition.

To be eligible for leave under the FMLA, you must work for an employer that the act covers, have worked for them for at least 12 months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of your leave. The employer must also have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of your worksite.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA covers undocumented workers and establishes standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping, and child labor. Undocumented workers must understand their rights under this act, as violations of this law may occur frequently in workplaces that employ them.

The FLSA sets the federal minimum wage and requires employers to pay eligible employees 1.5 times their regular pay rate for any hours worked beyond 40 hours a week. It also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees’ work hours and pay rates and sets standards for employing minors.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

The INA influences the employment rights of undocumented workers indirectly. The act makes it illegal for employers to knowingly hire individuals who do not have authorization to work in the United States.

Employers face penalties, including fines and possible prison time, if there’s evidence they violated the INA. Despite the restrictions on hiring undocumented workers, those who gain employment have rights and protections under various federal and state labor laws.

Limitations on Rights and Legal Remedies

Randal Klezmer, Lawyer for Workers' Compensation in Indianapolis
Randal Klezmer, Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Indianapolis

Although undocumented workers have numerous rights and protections under federal and state labor laws, there are certain limitations and challenges they may face when attempting to pursue legal remedies.

Undocumented workers may be ineligible for specific government benefits, such as unemployment insurance, Social Security, and other public assistance programs. Your attorney can explain which benefits your immigration status may preclude and explore alternative options for support.

Undocumented workers may face unique challenges when seeking to enforce their rights, including:

  • Fear of deportation: Undocumented workers may be hesitant to assert their rights or bring forth complaints against their employers because of concerns about deportation. Your attorney can help you assess the risks associated with pursuing legal remedies and provide guidance in navigating these challenges.
  • Fear of retaliation: Retaliation, such as job loss or worsened working conditions, is a legitimate concern for many undocumented workers, but there are protections in place to prevent retaliation for asserting your rights or participating in protected activities. Your attorney can help you understand these protections and take the necessary steps to protect your rights.
  • Undocumented workers in the United States have rights and protections under federal and state labor laws. They may, however, face limitations in terms of government benefits and challenges when pursuing legal remedies, such as fear of deportation and retaliation.

If you are an undocumented worker facing challenges related to your rights in the workplace, consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can provide specific legal guidance. Your attorney can help you understand your rights, navigate the complexities of the legal system, and weigh the risks and benefits of taking action.