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Do undocumented resident workers have rights?

Workers who have illegally entered the country often end up being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers or those who simply don't understand the state and federal labor laws. As one of the 5 percent of the U.S. labor force that is undocumented, you might be told by your boss or supervisor that you have no legal rights. But once an undocumented worker is hired by an employer, they have many of the same worker rights as those who have legal visas or are U.S. residents.

What does this include?

  • You are legally entitled to get the same wages, including overtime, if applicable to the job. As of December 31, 2015, NY State's minimum wage has been raised to $9.00 per hour. It's $7.50 for those in the hospitality industry and $7.65 for tipped employees in other industries. It's worth noting that these wages are scheduled to continue to go up each year through at least 2018.
  • Workers are entitled to be paid in a timely fashion. Manual laborers are to be paid weekly no later than one week after the pay period. Clerical and other employees must be paid twice per month. Employers should tell you ahead of time how much you are to be paid and on what day. Workers laid off or dismissed are entitled to all money due to them at the next regularly scheduled pay day.
  • You can receive workers' compensation benefits. Cash is not paid for the first seven days of the injury unless it will go beyond 14 days. The amount is two-thirds of your regular pay (you would get $400 if you earned $600 per week before injury). All medical expenses of injury on the job should be covered by workers' compensation.
  • You can participate in a union.

Other warning signs that your employer may be taking advantage of you include employers keeping no payroll records, or not allowing a meal period during a work shift at least six hours long. You shouldn't be expected to replace things you break while on the job.

You have rights!

You can file a wage claim with the New York State Department of Labor if your employer doesn't pay you for the documented hours worked. It's also illegal for an employer to retaliate or threaten to do something like reporting you to ICE ("Immigration and Customs Enforcement"), which is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.

If this is the case, or if you feel it will likely happen, it's a good idea to consult an attorney well versed in labor laws as they pertain to immigrants. Resident or not, the U.S. Constitution protects your individual rights. And as an undocumented worker in New York, you have the right to defend yourself.

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