Jun 24

Leave No Juan Behind! Justice for Undocumented Workers

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California law protects the rights of undocumented workers.

California law protects the rights of undocumented workers.

If you’re working in California illegally, you don’t have to live like a refugee – even if you are one. Every employee, regardless of his immigration status, has rights. Labor Code section 1019 protects those rights by prohibiting any employer or other person or entity from: (1) engaging in, or directing another person or entity to engage in, an unfair immigration-related practice (UIRP) against any person (2) with the purpose of, or the intent to, retaliate against that person for exercising certain rights. California law thus enshrines a fundamental principle of justice: leave no Juan behind.

What’s an Unfair Immigration-Related Practice?

Section 1019 defines a “UIRP” as any of the following: (1) requesting more or different documents than federal law requires or refusing to honor documents that federal law authorizes and that on their face reasonably appear to be genuine; (2) using the federal E-Verify system to check one’s employment authorization status at a time or in a manner that federal law doesn’t require or that any memorandum of understanding doesn’t authorize; (3) filing or threatening to file a false police report or a false report or complaint with any state or federal agency; or (4) contacting or threatening to contact immigration authorities.1

For a UIRP to violate Section 1019, an employer or other person must engage in or direct the URIP to retaliate against an employee for exercising a right under the Labor Code or local ordinance applicable to employees. Those rights include: (1) filing a complaint in good faith or disclosing to any person in good faith that the employer or other person allegedly violated the Labor Code or local ordinance; (2) seeking information about whether an employer or other party is complying with the Labor Code or local ordinance; and (3) informing a person of, and helping him assert, his potential rights and remedies under the Labor Code or local ordinance.2

What Can an Employee Get for Unfair Immigration-Related Practice?

The penalties for a violation of Section 1019 can be devastating. The employee can move a court for an order directing appropriate government agencies to suspend all of the defendant’s business licenses, including permits, certificates, approvals, registrations, and charters (though not professional licenses), for the location(s) where the violation(s) occurred.3 The issuance of such an order requires the agencies to immediately suspend the employer’s licenses for up to 14 days for the first violation, up to 30 days for the second violation, and up to 90 days for a third violation.4

In determining whether suspension is appropriate, a court must consider: (1) whether the defendant knowingly committed a UIRP; (2) whether and to what extent he made any good-faith efforts to resolve an alleged UIRP after he received notice of a violation; and (3) whether other employees (or other employers’ employees on a multi-employer job site) will suffer harm if the court suspends all licenses.5 For example, a contractor who threatens to call ICE on an employee for filing a wage complaint might be able to keep a construction permit, as suspension could force the contractor or (a sub-contractor) to lay off his whole crew.

  1. Lab. Code §1019(b)(1). 

  2. Lab. Code §1019(a)(1). 

  3. Lab. Code §1019(d)(2). 

  4. Id

  5. Lab. Code §1019(c)(3). 

Ben Rothman, Esq.

Ben Rothman is a Los Angeles-based attorney practicing in the areas of personal injury, employment, and workers' compensation on a "no recovery, no fee" basis. Call him at (424) 465-2948 for a free, no-obligation consultation.