Attorney General James Announces Legislation To Crack Down On Employers Who Retaliate Against Immigrant Workers

NEW YORK-- Attorney General Letitia James today announced legislation to hold employers accountable who retaliate against workers by threatening to expose their immigration status to federal authorities. The legislation would amend the New York Labor Law to clarify that unlawful retaliation includes contacting or threatening to contact immigration authorities about an employee’s suspected citizenship or immigration status, or the suspected citizenship or immigration status of an employee’s family or household member. The announcement comes on the heels of reports that an employee at President Trump’s golf club was threatened with deportation if she spoke out against her boss. The New York Attorney General’s Office has also received numerous reports of similar threats made to employees by other employers.

“New York State was built by immigrants and it has always stood proudly as a beacon of hope and opportunity no matter where you were born,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “This legislation will represent a critical step toward protecting some of our most vulnerable workers by ensuring that they are not silenced or punished by threats related to their immigration status.”

Immigrants have long faced disproportionate levels of exploitation and abuse in the workplace. Studies have shown that immigrants are more likely to be victims of wage theft, sexual harassment, misclassification, and workplace safety violations than American-born citizens. With a federal government that is even more antagonistic towards immigrants, this long-standing disparity has become worse than ever, and predatory employers are newly emboldened to exploit the culture of fear the federal government has created. Increasingly, there are reports that vulnerable immigrant workers are being threatened with deportation and other immigration-related consequences in order to prevent their reporting unlawful or dangerous working conditions.

Current New York Labor Law dictates that an employer cannot fire, threaten, penalize, or otherwise discriminate against a worker who reports or complains about minimum wage, overtime, or other wage and hour violations. This legislation would codify the definition of retaliatory conduct to include threats against an individual regarding their immigration status. Violation of this law would be a Class B Misdemeanor and carry up to three months in jail and up to a $20,000 fine.