Bill protecting immigrant workers from workplace harassment signed into law

Attorney General Letitia James

Law prohibits employer harassment and retaliation against immigrants 

Attorney General Letitia James today applauded recent action by Governor Andrew Cuomo signing legislation creating penalties for discrimination or retaliation against immigrant employees into law. This law 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 as prohibiting threats to contact immigration authorities about an employee or an employee’s family member.

“There is no place for any form of harassment, intimidation, and abuse in the workplace,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “It is incumbent on us to help vulnerable workers be able to stand up for their rights without fear of punishment. This law does just that by protecting New Yorkers from being exploited by unscrupulous and predatory employers. I thank Governor Cuomo and the bill’s sponsors, Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Crespo, for their efforts in helping pass this important policy into law.”

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, the legislation was sponsored by Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo.

“New York’s immigrants have historically faced abuse from discriminatory employers,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos. “Especially when our neighbors are facing constant threats of ICE raids by the federal government, it is of utmost importance that everyone is safe in the workplace. Immigrants should be able to work without the threat of being targeted by their employers because of their immigration status. I want to thank Attorney General Letitia James for working with me to pass this bill and Governor Cuomo for signing it into law.”

“While anti-immigrant fervor is at an all-time high across the country, we as New Yorkers cannot forget our own history, our pathway to success, and the promise of the Statue of Liberty at our shores,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo. “I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this bill and Attorney General James for leading this effort to protect immigrant workers from unfair threats and retaliation from their employers when seeking fairness and justice in the workplace. This is crucially important to protect the integrity of our state labor laws and ensure that all workers are treated with respect.”

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 percent of undocumented immigrants reported experiencing wage theft in the prior week, and a staggering 85 percent of immigrant workers reported suffering overtime violations. Foreign-born Latino men are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be killed on the job than 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 percent since 2016.

Under this culture of fear, predatory employers are newly emboldened to exploit vulnerable employees. In particular, there are increasing reports that vulnerable immigrant workers are being threatened with deportation consequences in order to prevent them from 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 seven in 2015. There have been numerous cases in states across the country where injured immigrant workers were threatened with deportation for applying 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 had not yet been codified.

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