California Modifies Penal Code and Labor Laws to Strengthen its Human Rights Protections for Migrant Workers

The State of California has passed Assembly Bills 524 and 666 to increase protections for migrant workers. On October 5th, 2013, the state of California strengthened its human rights protections for immigrant workers by passing Assembly Bill 524 (“AB 524”). Signed by Governor Jerry Brown, this bill protects immigrant workers from abuse by broadening the definition of extortion in the California Penal Code, to include threats to report the immigration status of workers or their families.

After January 1st, 2014, employers may be penalized for reporting or threatening to report an employee’s or former employee’s suspected citizenship status or that of their family members where they pursue such action because the employee or former employee exercised a designated labor right. Such behavior by employers will be considered adverse employment action for the purposes of establishing a violation of labor rights.

Proponents of this bills argued that this law would strengthen the state’s labor law by clarifying that employers who retaliate against workers for asserting their basic rights will be penalized. The legislation is aimed to protect workers who are afraid of reporting abuses in the workplace as a result of their immigration status.

Furthermore, California passed Senate Bill 666 to penalize employers found to have retaliated against employees on the basis of their immigration status. This bill would allow for the suspension or revocation of a business license if the employer is found to reported or threatened to report an employee’s immigration status as retaliation for exercising his or her labor rights.

SB 666 would also penalize members of the State Bar who report or threaten to report the suspected immigration status of a witness to a civil suit or administrative action, or his or her family, because the witness or family member exercises a right related to his or her employment. Individuals engaging in such behavior may be suspended, disbarred or be subjected to other discipline. This bill is currently waiting for the Governor’s approval.

Since 2002, California has been engaged in efforts to provide protective laws to immigrant workers. Senate Bill 1818 established that immigration status is irrelevant to the enforcement of state labor and employment laws. Reports show that immigrant workers tend to be more vulnerable to workplace abuses because they often work in low-wage industries. Proponents of these bills insist that it is essential to protect low-wage workers from unscrupulous employers to ensure that impunity for labor rights violations are not tolerated.

If you are an immigrant worker who has suffered from threats from your employer related to your immigration status after attempting to exercise your labor rights, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.