What is Immigration Related Retaliation?

Rights at Work

As a resilience worker, you spend long hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months rebuilding after a natural disaster strikes. No matter where you work or what type of work to do, you have a right to:

Be paid for your labor
Be free from discrimination during your employment and before you are hired
Protective gear and safe working conditions
Organize with co-workers if your rights are not met
In some circumstances, to stop work
When you are at a work site, you may find that you are not given the proper protective equipment for the work you are doing, that pay day passes and you have not been paid, you are not getting the required time and half for hours over 40 per week or there is not enough free drinkable water on the worksite as required by OSHA standards. If you find something like this is happening, it is normal to want to fix the situation so that you do have the proper protective equipment, you are getting paid for your work, and you have adequate water. You may ask your supervisor about the equipment, payment, or water. You may gather a group of your co-workers and complain about the conditions together. If your supervisor does not want to do anything about it, he may instead get upset and retaliate against you.

Retaliation After Standing Up for Your Rights

Retaliation is any negative action taken against you in response to your complaint. Here are some subtle and not so subtle ways employers retaliate against employees after employees make a complaint in the workplace:

Reprimand you
Spread false rumors about you
Threaten reassignment
Remove supervisory responsibilities
Transfer you to a less desirable position
Make false reports to government authorities or in the media
Scrutinize work or attendance more closely than that of other employees
Scrutinize work or attendance more closely than before you made the complaint
Treat a family member negatively (for example, cancel a contract with the person's spouse)
Make your work more difficult (for example, changing your work schedule to very early or very late hours)
Give a performance evaluation that is lower than it should be
File a fabricated claim of criminal action (claim something was stolen from job site and call the police, when you did not steal anything);

Immigration-Related Retaliation

Immigration-Related Retaliation is when the retaliatory action is based on the workers’ immigration status. This is when an employer uses your immigration status against you to threaten you and make you afraid so that you will stop complaining about what you have found wrong in the workplace. Both retaliation and immigration-related retaliation are illegal and are claims you can make against your employer in several different ways. These are some examples of things employers do that are Immigration Related Retaliation.

Ask about immigration status, threaten to make reports to authorities, such as calling the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“la migra”) or contacting the police, or do any of the following:

  • Say “Go back to your home country”
  • Ask if you are from the United States
  • Ask to see your green card
  • Tell you that they have more rights because they are from the United States
  • Tell you that nobody will believe you or listen to you because you are undocumented
Actually make reports to ICE or Border Patrol. Note that ICE generally does not respond to reports from the public about undocumented immigrants. ICE has priorities that it focuses on, which currently include people with criminal records.
Threaten to call the local police or sheriff, especially if the job site is in a 287(g) community (a county/parish with an agreement to hold immigrants in jail for up to 48 hours for ICE pick-up).
Actually make reports to the police. Note that many police forces around the U.S. have decided not to cooperate with ICE, these are called “sanctuary cities.” Also, generally the police and ICE only cooperate once someone is officially arrested.
Require re-verification or initial verification of work status for the first time (also known as an “I-9 audit”)

  • “I need to see your papers again”
  • “I didn’t care about your papers when you started working here, but I need to see your papers now”

Why is Immigration Related Retaliation important?

Immigration-Related Retaliation is not legal. All the laws that protect workers rights also make it illegal to retaliate when you stand up for those rights. For example, if you complain about not getting your wages or overtime, you are complaining about a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The U.S. Department of Labor is the agency that oversees enforcement of the FLSA. If your employer retaliates against you after you complain about wages or overtime, then you can ask the U.S. Department of Labor to help you. Their phone number is 1-866-487-9243 and they speak Spanish and other languages. You can also search for a lawyer and file a case in court.

Further, you could request that the Department of Labor (“DOL”) investigate your claim and you may receive a letter of support that you can send to the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”)  alongside other evidence for a determination of deferred action in your immigration case.

If you complain about unsafe work conditions like not having access to free drinkable water, not being provided with appropriate protective equipment, or working on roofs without fall protection, you are complaining about a health and safety violation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees health and safety in the workplace. You can make an anonymous complaint about health and safety issues to OSHA by calling 800-321-6742. You can speak to someone in Spanish or other languages. If your employer retaliates against you after you complain about health and safety violations, then you can ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for help by filing a whistleblower complaint. Just as with wage and hour complaints, you can also search for a lawyer and file a case in court.

If you complain about discrimination on account of your race, color, sex, religion, disability, age if you are 40 or older, or national origin you are complaining about a violation of anti-discrimination federal laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee for these reasons. If your employer retaliates against you after you complain about discrimination as an employee or job applicant, then you can ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for help by filing a charge. Their phone number is 1-800-669-6820 and they speak Spanish as well as other languages. You can also search for a lawyer and file a case in court.

What can workers do about Immigration Related Retaliation?

The best thing to do about immigration-related retaliation is to collect evidence and act in a group. The more evidence you have, the more likely you are to succeed in a claim with the above organizations or in a civil lawsuit against your employer. Hire an attorney if possible, or contact a local workers’ rights organization. Call Resilience Force at 504-233-8371 or email us at info@resilienceforce.org. Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Complain in writing – send a text or email.  If you send or deliver a letter, take a picture of the letter before you do
  • Document what the employer is doing – take videos, take screenshots, take pictures.  But be careful if recording an employer secretly, in some states, including Florida, that can be illegal.
  • Ask for payment by direct deposit or other electronic means so you don’t have to reveal your home address.
  • You might wait until the job is over to make a complaint
  • Meet often with co-workers off of the site to find out if other workers are going through the same situations.
  • Start a group text chat or Whatsapp group of co-workers.  Don’t include supervisors or crew chiefs.  
  • Keep a journal of changes in the workplace, whether it is new supervisors, more attention paid to groups of employees, negative attention, or preference in assignments and hours.

Looking for National Guestworker Alliance? Most of NGA’s work is now part of Resilience Force.

If you have a specific question about guestworkers,
email Daniel Castellanos, dcastellanos@guestworkeralliance.org