Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend signed into law a bill that makes it illegal for an employer in New York state to retaliate against a worker by contacting federal immigration authorities or threatening to do so. The measure also extends the protection to threats or actions against an employee’s family or household members. The provision takes effect 19 days from the bill’s signing.
The idea for specifying that protections also cover threats regarding immigration status was proposed by the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James and the legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Jessica Ramos of Queens and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo of the Bronx.
The new law adds language to existing labor law in order to specify that when the existing law says it’s illegal to “threaten, penalize, or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against any employee” that includes contacting or threatening to contact a federal, state or local agency about an employee’s immigration or citizenship status or the status of a family or household member.
“There is no place for any form of harassment, intimidation, and abuse in the workplace,” James said. “It is incumbent on us to help vulnerable workers be able to stand up for their rights without fear of punishment.”
James’ office said it has received numerous credible reports of employers threatening immigrant workers with potential deportation for standing up for themselves. It also said immigrants are more likely to be victims of wage theft, sexual harassment and misclassification as independent contractors rather than employees entitled to benefits than are employees who are U.S. citizens.
The office cited figures that every year, 6.5 million undocumented workers are cheated with respect to wages they have earned and 85 percent of immigrant workers do not receive all the overtime pay to which they’re entitled. James’ office said that fear of repercussion silences these workers.
“Under this culture of fear, predatory employers are newly emboldened to exploit vulnerable employees. In particular, there are increasing reports that vulnerable immigrant workers are being threatened with deportation consequences in order to prevent them from reporting toxic or dangerous workplaces,” the state attorney general’s office said in a statement.
James office noted that in California there were 94 complaints over immigration-related retaliation threats during the first year of the Trump administration, up from 20 in all of 2016 and seven in 2015.