Undocumented Workers May be Entitled to Relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently held that undocumented immigrants are able to sue employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for payment of minimum wage or overtime. In Lucas v. Jerusalem Café, the appellate judge stated that the Secretary of Labor and numerous district courts agree that employers must comply with federal employment laws even where they hire unauthorized workers.

In Lucas, five of the six workers involved in the lawsuit alleged that the employer knew of their lack of employment permits and paid employees in cash on a weekly basis. The Court rejected the employer’s argument that the plaintiffs’ status as undocumented workers prevented them from seeking relief for uncompensated work.

Responding to criticism against the Lucas decision, the Department of Labor argued that protecting labor rights laws of unauthorized workers did not frustrate federal immigration policy because imposing such liability for labor law violations would dissuade employers from hiring illegal immigrants for lower than the minimum wage. The court reasoned that employers should be encouraged to comply with federal regulations requiring Form I-9 employment verification because they are now warned that exploiting illegal immigrants exposes them to liability for breaking U.S. immigration and labor laws.

The decision established that undocumented immigrants may be entitled to relief for a labor dispute depending on the statute under which they file a claim. While such workers are not entitled to relief under the National Labor Relations Act (see our earlier post about Palma v. National Labor Relations Board), they may be awarded backpay for claims under the FLSA.

If you are a documented or undocumented worker and you believe you have a labor claim under any of these statutes, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.