Updating Information at Work: Practical Tips for Immigrant Workers

It is all too often that employers attempt to side-step the law and abuse workers for financial gain. This can be even truer for immigrant workers.  However, the California Labor Code and federal law provide rights and protections that you can use to fight back against this employer abuse.

One issue that arises often is that workers attempt to change personal information (name, social security number, or work authorization document) and face retaliation from their employer for doing so.  For example, in some cases employers fire workers or change their employment status to “new hire” resulting in a loss of seniority, benefits and in some cases a reduction in wages simply because they’ve obtained a change in legal status or work authorization and wish to update their employment records.  Under California law, this is illegal.

California Labor Code § 1024.6 states that “[a]n Employer may not Discharge an employee or in any manner discriminate, retaliate or take any adverse action against an employee because the employee updates or attempts to update his or her personal information based on a lawful change of name, social security number, or federal employment authorization document.”   If an employee attempts to change her personal information with an employer and meets resistance or suffers retaliation, the employer is acting unlawfully.  To ensure employers are not violating California law, Unions may consider representing workers in their requests to update information, including informing the employer in writing of said request and reminding the employer of workers’ rights under the Labor Code.

Another related protection is California Labor Code § 1019, which makes “unfair immigration-related practices” illegal and punishable. An employer engaging in such practices can get their business license suspended by order of a court. “Unfair immigration related practices” include many common practices, such as 1) requesting more or different documents than are required under Title 8 Section 1324 (b) of the United States Code, or refusing to accept documents from workers which reasonably appear to be genuine, 2) using the federal E-verify system to check the employment authorization status of a person at a time or in a manner not required under Title 8 Section 1324 (b), or any memorandum governing use of the E-verify system, 3) threatening to contact or contacting immigration authorities, or 4) threatening to file or filing a false police report. If an employer takes any of the above actions within 90 days of a worker exercising any rights under the Labor Code, the employer is presumed to be unlawfully retaliating against the employee.

If a worker seeks to change personal information and, as a result, the employer pressures the worker to give different or more documents to complete the new I-9, the employer has violated Labor Code section 1019 above and may also have engaged in unlawful document abuse prohibited by the federal immigration anti-discrimination provisions. 8 U.S.C. §1324(b).

Although the law provides these protections, CBA language can also mimic these provisions to provide added protection. When negotiating new contract language, if your CBA does not already include language from California Labor Codes §1019 or §1024.6, consider pushing for it. This will remind the employer that immigrant union members will not be bullied.

If your Union has more questions regarding these provisions or how the Union can support its members to enforce these rights, contact our office for more information and support, including sample letters to employers.

By Tiffany L. Crain Altamirano | April 11, 2016

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