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Blog : California Employment Law

California Immigration Laws: What Employees Need to Know

California Immigration Laws and Employee Rights
Photo Credit: Sasha Y. Kimel Flickr via Compfight cc

Immigration laws are getting a lot of attention lately, with many wondering what their rights are under current laws. Fortunately, all workers are guaranteed certain rights in California, regardless of immigration status. Read on to learn more about California immigration laws and your rights as an immigrant worker.

Working Legally in California

In order to work legally in the United States, you must be a citizen, a Legal Permanent Resident (a “green card” holder), or hold a valid work visa.

It is federally required for employers to verify new employees’ authorization to work in the United States within three days of hiring them. When you are hired, you are required to fill out an I-9 form and provide two forms of identification, such as a driver’s license and a social security card.

What is E-Verify?

After the I-9 form is filled out, the employer confirms that the documentation is correct and that you are authorized to work in the United States. In many states, employers are required to use the E-Verify system to do this. E-Verify is a government-run online database of valid social security numbers.

However, California has recently passed a law prohibiting state government entities from requiring that employers use E-Verify. Under this law, private employers are not required to use the E-Verify system, though they may still do so voluntarily.

Protections for Immigrant Workers in California

The California Labor Code is a set of statutes ensuring the welfare of all workers in the state, including immigrants. The code regulates workplace wages, health and sanitation standards, and working hours. In addition, California labor laws like the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect you from discrimination in the workplace due to your race or national origin.

California Senate Bill 1001, an amendment made to FEHA specifically to protect immigrant workers, went into effect on January 1, 2017. This law protects you from having a potential employer request more documentation than is legally required to confirm that you can legally work in the United States. It also makes it illegal for potential employers to refuse to honor genuine documents or to demand to see your passport, among other protections.

What if I am Undocumented? Could an Employer Use that Against Me?

If you are undocumented, you still have protections under the California Labor Code: Section 1171.5 of the law declares that all parts of the California Labor Code apply to all workers regardless of your immigration status.

This means that if your employer is violating a part of the code, including withholding wages or enacting unsafe or unfair working conditions, you can report the violations without retaliation. This counts as “whistleblowing,” which is a protected action under California law. It is against the law for an employer to retaliate against you for whistleblowing, including by threatening to disclose your or your family’s immigration status to authorities.

In the 2014 case Salas v. Sierra Chemical, the California Supreme Court ruled that the case of a worker who sued his employer for disability discrimination could proceed even after it was discovered that the worker was undocumented. This case sets a precedent for any workers to pursue claims of wrongdoing in the workplace regardless of their immigration status.

You are also entitled to compensation for overtime and breaks under California law if you are undocumented, and you can sue for damages if your employer withholds overtime pay or does not allow you to take breaks.

Proposed California Immigration Labor Laws

California legislators have proposed a law (AB-450) that would make it mandatory for employers to notify their employees of any planned federal immigration raids. Under current California law, employers don’t have to provide their employees with any notice before a raid occurs.

In addition, the California State Senate’s Agricultural Worker Program Act is a proposal to create a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers, one that would provide workers with a “blue card” allowing them to work legally.

New California labor and employment laws are being proposed every day, and the protections listed above are only a portion of existing laws. If you think your employer is violating California immigration laws, you should consult a lawyer. Contact our experienced California employment lawyers at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation.

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