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California law bans employer immigration-related retaliation

As we discussed in a previous post, new California employer responsibilities that took effect on January 1 require valid warrants, subpoenas or court orders of federal immigration personnel before allowing access to workplaces and employee records. In addition, existing California law forbids employers from taking intimidating actions against employees related to immigration status, including threats to report workers or their family members to immigration authorities.

Immigration-related worker protections

These laws try to prevent workers from being afraid to raise legitimate issues about illegal employment practices related to unsafe workplaces, failure to pay wages owed, handling of worker identification documents, sick time, wage-and-hour laws and others. If workers fear deportation or other negative immigration consequences, they are less likely to raise valid employment grievances.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the number of immigration-related employer retaliation complaints filed with the state Labor Commissioner exploded in 2017 to 94, as compared to 20 in 2016 and seven in 2015.

The article reports that Labor Commissioner Julie Su and others suspect the rise in complaints may reflect the emboldening of employers in light of current "anti-immigrant rhetoric" and the increase in federal immigration enforcement actions.

Employer responsibilities

Every California employer should seek legal advice about compliance with these detailed laws so that all owners, managers and supervisors are armed with the knowledge they will need to treat employees accordingly.

The Labor Commissioner's website explains the various laws that apply, among others, including California Labor Code sections 244, 1019, 1019.2 and 2914, which may be linked to from this agency page. Some of the prohibited employer actions include:

  • Reporting or threats to report a worker's or his or her family member's immigration status to a unit of government for the employee's exercise of state labor rights
  • Retaliating against an employee for exercising his or her protected labor rights by engaging in "unfair immigration-related practices" concerning work-related identification documents or the federal E-Verify system, or filing or threatening to file a "false police report" or other false complaint with a governmental unit, including federal immigration authorities
  • Misusing E-Verify in other ways

Depending on the allegation, an employer could be subject to a lawsuit or a complaint filed with the Commissioner, which could result in damages, agency fines or suspension of business licenses.

Any employer with questions about compliance with these immigration-related anti-retaliation requirements should seek legal guidance from a lawyer.

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