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Know Your Rights as an Immigrant Worker

By Michael Brooks-Jimenez

Although immigrants with a work permit or who are here on an employment visa are legally allowed to work in this country, they do not always get the same humane treatment as others from employers. Oftentimes, legal immigrant workers consider themselves lucky to get any work at all. Unfortunately, certain unscrupulous souls know this and take advantage of vulnerable immigrant workers.

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Immigrant workers, however, have just as many rights as the native-born do when it comes to work in the United States. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Immigrant and Employee Rights section of the DOJ work together to make sure that these rights are respected by enforcing certain laws.

Immigration Reform And Control Act of 1986

According to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, immigrant workers have the right to be hired, fired, recruited, or referred for a job without the potential employer basing their decision on their citizenship status.

This rule is enforced by the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, Civil Rights Division, and they have a few clauses to make sure employers comply.

Employers must accept lawful documents that prove an applicant's legal ability to work in this country, and they can't demand additional documentation based on the employee's citizenship status or nation of origin when the employee is filling out Form W-9. The immigrant worker has the right to pick which of the acceptable documents that he or she uses for the W-9.

Immigrant workers have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the appropriate people and to help investigations of companies without retaliation, as well.

Title VII Of The Civil Rights Act

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This clause prohibits discriminating on the job against people because of their national origin. Employers are not allowed to consider what country a person was born in when hiring, training, promoting, determining pay scale, determining pay raises, or any other job-related action.

Aspects of a person's ethnicity count in this area. For instance, an accent cannot be held against a worker when being considered for jobs or promotions unless the accent would seriously interfere with the work. An employer can't refuse to hire someone because of an ethnic appearance, either.

An immigrant worker also has the right to work for a company whose policies affect everyone equally. For instance, while an employer can hire only people fluent in English, he or she can't demand that people speak only English in the workplace unless there is legitimate work need.

The employer can't apply dress codes that restrict one group more than another, either. For instance, disallowing beards for no business-related reason when certain sects of Jews and Muslims grow beards for religious reasons isn't allowed. Imposing dress restrictions only on one group, say disallowing saris or yarmulkes but letting everyone else wear what they want, would be discrimination, too.

These protections even extend to people who married an immigrant or are in some way associated with an immigrant group. For instance, if a person attends a church or school used by people of a certain nationality, it can't be used against them when the boss is making job-related decisions.

Harassment

The Civil Rights Act includes the right for an immigrant worker to be free from harassment while on the job. No one, for instance, should be making frequent derogatory remarks about a person's place of birth, accent, or ethnicity. Another example of harassment is posting racist cartoons in common areas. If the harassment is severe or leads to the immigrant worker getting fired or demoted, it's illegal.

Enforcement

The EEOC and the IER will investigate charges, and an immigrant worker can sue a company for violating their rights. The government can require the company to rewrite their policies, and the victim can get reimbursed for losses.

However, you have to bring a charge to the EEOC within 180 days of of the discriminatory act. You can contact them at 1-800-669-4000.

Seek Legal Advice

Also, any lawsuit can be tricky. Getting advise from a lawyer when you think you have suffered discrimination is a good idea. If you need help fighting discrimination, contact us. We have the expertise to guide you through the process!

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