5 facts about undocumented workers’ rights

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In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, we are taking the time to acknowledge the rights of immigrants and undocumented people in the workplace.

FACT 1: Undocumented workers enjoy almost all of the same rights as other workers under federal and California law.

Health and safety laws protect all employees regardless of their immigration status. All workers in California who are injured on the job – including undocumented workers – can receive workers’ compensation benefits to cover medical costs.

Exception: Undocumented workers cannot collect unemployment insurance because they are not “available for work.” In order to receive unemployment insurance, workers must be both “able to work” and “available for work,” according to the California Employment Development Department. Since undocumented workers are not legally eligible to work, they do not qualify.

Join @LegalAidatWork from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific time on Thursday, June 29, at the hashtag #AskLAAW for a Twitter chat about workers’ rights, immigrant contributions to the American workplace and economy, and how to prepare for a possible raid by ICE.

FACT 2: It is illegal for employers to discriminate against any employee because of their national origin or religion or or because their primary language isn’t English.

Because the primary language a person speaks is closely related to the place they came from, being discriminated against for using that language has the same effect as being discriminated against because of their national origin – which is prohibited by federal and California law.

California law prohibits employers from having a “speak-English-only” policy unless the employer can show a “business necessity” for it. If they do, they must tell employees about it, including when and where it applies.

FACT 3: You have the right to be free from hate violence or threats of hate violence at work, in your home, at school, and in other situations.

Under California’s Ralph Civil Rights Act, you have the right to back pay, damages, or compensation if you experience violence or harassment because of a personal characteristic.

FACT 4: If you live in California, you have a right to update your Social Security number (SSN) with your employer.

When you update your SSN, it is discriminatory for your employer to ask for more or different documents than are required by federal law. And the employer may not take action against you because you update your personal information, unless those changes are related to the job’s skill set or qualifications.

FACT 5: Document abuse occurs when employers require more or different documents than the I-9 form requires, or they refuse to take legally acceptable documents.

Document abuse also can happen after you’ve been hired and successfully completed the I-9 process— when an employer demands that you “re-verify” your ability to work in the U.S. by providing new documents.

Some examples of document abuse:

  • A prospective employer demands to see a worker’s U.S. passport or Social Security card.
  • A prospective employer asks for an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-765), even though the worker has already shown a state ID card and a Social Security card.
  • An employer asks to re-verify the work documents of someone who presented a “green card” at the time of hire.
  • An employer re-verifies only workers of a specific ethnicity.

Learn more: Read our factsheet (in English, Spanish or Chinese) Undocumented Workers: Employment rights.

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