Since the late 1980s, most U.S. employers have had a legal responsibility to determine the identity and work eligibility of every new person they hire. One of the purposes of this requirement is to reduce the number of unauthorized workers in the country, thereby allowing only authorized workers to compete for jobs.
According to the Pew Research Center, U.S. employers currently employ roughly 7.6 million unauthorized workers. Sadly, these workers are often victims of mistreatment, including low pay, threats of immigration consequences and poor working conditions. Still, like everyone else, unauthorized workers should receive overtime pay.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
The FLSA, a federal law, gives unauthorized workers the same wage-and-hour protections that U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and other authorized workers enjoy. The same is true for Illinois’ version of the law. Therefore, undocumented workers may have a legal cause of action against their employers for any of the following:
- Earning less than the minimum wage, which for most workers in Cook County is $13.35 per hour
- Not receiving time-and-a-half overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week
- Not earning compensation for performing pre- or post-work tasks or other off-the-clock work
An employer’s defense
Employers tend to believe they can take advantage of undocumented workers without facing many repercussions. This is not the case, however. Indeed, no employer can use an employee’s lack of legal work status to defend against a wage-and-hour complaint.
It can be somewhat intimidating for unauthorized workers to stand up for themselves, as they often fear retribution from both their employers and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ultimately, though, unauthorized workers deserve to receive fair wages for the regular and overtime hours they work.