The Common Law

Immigrant Workers' Rights

I've asked Edna Yang, general counsel with Political Asylum Project of Austin, to answer to questions received by her office regarding immigrant workers' rights. – Luke Ellis

Are there basic rights that every worker, citizen, or noncitizen has in the U.S.?

Yes. It's important to note that workers' rights are not dependent on immigration status or country of origin. Every employee in the U.S. has the right to:

• work in a clean safe environment and be free of physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment;

• be paid minimum wage which, as of August 2004, is $5.15 per hour; workers also must be paid "time and a half" for every hour over 40 hours in one week;

• organize and assert his or her labor rights and remain free from discrimination and retaliation.

Additionally, an employer cannot charge a worker for housing or food without a voluntary agreement on the part of the worker.

Is there recourse for an undocumented worker to reclaim wages that were not paid?

Yes. If you work, then you deserve to get paid for your work. Some may think that if you are undocumented in the U.S., you are not entitled to be paid for your labor, and that is incorrect. Not paying someone for the work they have done is like theft. The Austin Police Department investigates cases like these. In addition, workers can seek to file administrative complaints with the Texas Workforce Commission or seek recourse in court. There are some nonprofits here in Austin, like the Worker's Defense Project, that assist and empower immigrant workers in reclaiming stolen wages.

What about if a worker gets injured at work?

If a worker is injured at work, they should receive immediate medical attention and apply for workers compensation. If a person is working in a place with unhealthy or dangerous conditions, she or he can report these unsafe conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at OSHA's toll-free number, 800/321-6742.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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