[COLUMN] California’s employee protections apply to all workers, regardless of immigration status

Courts protect identity of undocumented employee

A recent decision from the California Supreme Court reminds us that employee protections found in California law apply to ALL employees, without regard for immigration status.  In the case of People ex rel. Garcia-Brower v. Kolla’s Inc., a nightclub employee had complained to the owner that she was not being paid all her earned wages.  In response, the nightclub owner fired her, and then threatened to report her to immigration authorities if she persisted with her claims.  The California court confirmed that both the firing and the threat to call immigration authorities was unlawful retaliation under California’s whistleblower law.

Court records are generally open to the public. However, to protect against the “immigration-related threats” the Courts, all refrained from using the employee’s name in their decisions, and instead referred to the employee only by her initials.  This sensitivity displayed by the courts is consistent with California statutes that ensure that even employees without lawful immigration status are protected by California’s employment laws.

Under California law, “[a]ll protections, rights and remedies available under state law, except any reinstatement remedy prohibited by federal law, are available to all individuals regardless of immigration status.”  California law thus prohibits anyone from asking an employee about their immigration status in any legal action.  In this way, California’s wage-and-hour protections and anti-discrimination laws apply to ALL employees.  (In fact, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Council makes clear that discrimination based on immigration status is a subset of unlawful discrimination on account of national origin.)

Ensuring that the state’s employment laws apply to everyone certainly helps those workers lacking lawful immigration status.  But the big picture is that making sure that every employer has to abide by California’s employment laws helps all workers in the state. Without such protections, unscrupulous employers may seek to game the system by taking advantage of workers without lawful immigration status.  Left unchecked, these employers can provide substandard work conditions and employment terms that could erode protections for everyone else.

Extending worker protections to ALL employees levels the playing field.  There is no question that employers who hire those without lawful immigration status are still required to comply with all California employment laws, and will be subject to enforcement actions for violations.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine for 11 years, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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