Attorney General James Applauds Passage Of Bill Protecting Immigrants In The Workplace  

Bill Prohibits Employer Harassment and Retaliation Against Immigrants  

NEW YORK—Attorney General Letitia James today applauded the passage of legislation creating penalties for discrimination or retaliation against immigrant employees. This bill is a necessary and commonsense codification of federal case law interpreting the anti-retaliation provisions of New York’s Labor Law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as prohibiting threats to contact immigration authorities about an employee or an employee’s family member.

“Every person deserves a workplace free of harassment, intimidation, and abuse,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Unfortunately, this is not always the case, which is why we must do everything in our power to ensure that vulnerable workers can stand up for their rights without fear of punishment. This bill represents an important step toward protecting New Yorkers from unscrupulous and predatory employers. I thank Senator Ramos and Assembly Member Crespo for their leadership in ushering this through their respective chambers.” 

“The law should protect all New Yorkers equally in the workplace,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos. “It is undeniable that immigrant workers face employer retaliation and abuse at alarming rates. This bill will protect these vulnerable workers from continued exploitation and harmful working conditions, problems that have persisted in this state for far too long.” 

“The exploitation of immigrant workers infringes upon their most basic right to feel safe in their place of work,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo. “That’s why I am proud to announce the passage of this bill, which will provide fundamental protections to immigrant workers throughout the state. No one should fear employer retaliation for pursuing just, legal action meant to keep them and their families safe.” 

Immigrants are more likely to be victims of wage theft, sexual harassment, misclassification and workplace safety violations than American-born citizens. Every year, 6.5 million undocumented workers experience wage theft and, according to one landmark study, nearly 40% of undocumented immigrants reported experiencing wage theft in the prior week, and a staggering 85% of immigrant workers reported suffering overtime violations. Foreign-born Latino men are nearly 2 ½ times more likely to be killed on the job that the average U.S. worker. Immigrants are also over-represented in fields where sexual harassment is the highest: restaurant, agricultural and domestic work. 

Yet fear of repercussions silences these exploited workers too often. In a 2009 survey of Iowa meatpacking workers, 91 percent responded that immigrant women do not report sexual harassment or sexual violence in their workplace. With increasingly heated anti-immigrant rhetoric at the federal level, this long-standing disparity has become worse than ever. For instance, immigrant reports of sexual assault have declined by 25% since 2016.

Under this culture of fear, predatory employers are newly emboldened to exploit vulnerable and there are increasing reports that vulnerable immigrant workers are being threatened with deportation consequences in order to prevent their reporting toxic or dangerous workplaces. Despite understandable fears of reporting, complaints over immigration-related retaliation threats surged in California with 94 reported during the first year of the Trump Administration, up from 20 in all of 2016 and only seven a year earlier. There have been numerous cases in states across the country where injured immigrant workers were threatened with deportation for daring to apply for workers compensation. In New York, the Labor Department has imposed at least $250,000 in fines over the last three years despite the fact that immigration threats as retaliation has not yet been codified. 

The Office of the Attorney General, which submitted this bill and vigorously advocated for its passage, has received numerous credible reports of employers threatening immigrant workers with potential deportation for standing up for themselves. In the legislature, S. 5791 was sponsored by Senator Jessica Ramos and A. 5501 was sponsored by Assembly Member Marcos Crespo. The legislation now heads to the Governor for his review and consideration.