Paying for work

Undocumented immigrants are exposed to labor exploitation and workplace abuse because of their vulnerable legal status. Too many employers take advantage of this situation to deny these laborers their rights.

This week in California the opportunity for such abuse was reduced. The state’s Supreme Court extended the protections against discrimination to immigrants, even those who use another person’s Social Security number to get a job.

The judges ruled that the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which protects workers, prevails over the restrictions imposed by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

The specific case in point, Salas v Sierra Chemical, is about a worker’s compensation claim. In this case, Vicente Salas sued the company to rehire him after he had filed a complaint over a workplace accident. The company asked to have the lawsuit dismissed after discovering that Salas used a false Social Security number to get the job.

Instead, the state’s High Court ruled that an employer must pay for work done during the period in which the employer hadn’t discovered that the Social Security number was false. Simply put, there is no excuse for not paying. If one knows that the number is false, then an employer can neither hire nor pay a salary.

The court’s decision will allow undocumented workers to sue for lost wages, although it is possible that few will take advantage of this ruling for fear of deportation.

You can always question the use of fake IDs, but that’s another topic. Bottom line, one’s labor cannot be manipulated at the whim of an employer to secure cheap labor and then not want to pay for it.