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We’ve Got a Job to Do: Employment Patterns, Discrimination, and Immigrant Workers

From the increase of humanitarian crisis across the globe and asylum-seeking refugees to discussions about “border control,” immigrant workers find themselves at the forefront of many political debates with no signs of slowing down. As our country continues to open its doors to immigrants, who, in turn, begin to represent a larger population of the workforce, it is a prime time to take a look at employment practices and rights of the immigrant worker in the United States.

Immigrants Tend to Hold Different Kinds of Jobs Than Workers Born in the U.S.

The Atlantic recently highlighted the unique role of immigrants in the workforce. Immigrants currently make up about 13 percent of the total U.S. population but around 17 percent of the total American workforce. Yet U.S.-born workers and immigrant workers are not distributed evenly across different industries. Throughout the country, immigrant workers tend to hold jobs in certain industries in higher numbers compared with employees born in the United States. Based on a study conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, immigrants tend to hold more jobs in the following industries than U.S.-born workers:

  • Agriculture and extraction;
  • Administration services;
  • Construction;
  • Leisure and hospitality; and
  • Manufacturing.

On the flip side, there is a marked lack of immigrant workers in certain industries when we consider the total number of immigrants in the workforce. The following industries tend to have a smaller proportion of immigrant workers:

  • Professional, scientific, technical, and management services;
  • Public administration;
  • Finance and real estate;
  • Education services;
  • Health care and social assistance; and
  • Trade, transportation, and utilities.

Generally speaking, these distinctions remain true regardless of the immigrant population of any given state, even in California and Florida where immigrant populations are particularly high.

Employment Discrimination Against Immigrants

Whether an immigrant to the United States applies for a job in ones of the sectors where jobs are more commonly held by immigrant workers or in a field that tends to have more U.S.-born workers, it is important to understand that employment discrimination is illegal. Regardless of national origin or documentation, immigrants are protected against discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under Title VII, national origin discrimination is illegal, and discrimination against a person because of his or her place of birth (or the place of his or her ancestor’s birth) is illegal.

Given that English often is not a first language for immigrants, employers should consider the legality of workplace rules requiring employees to speak English. The EEOC makes clear that “Speak-English-Only Rules” are illegal at any place of employment “unless the employer can show that they are justified by business necessity.” In other words, an employer cannot require a worker to only speak English unless it is necessary for that person to perform the duties of his or her job.

An example of an English-only rule that likely is discriminatory is one requiring employees to speak English at all times at work, even at lunch or on breaks. When can such rules be justified? For instance, an employee may be required to speak English in order to communicate effectively with customers. At the same time, the EEOC emphasizes that “even if there is a need for an English-only rule, an employer may not take disciplinary action against an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule and the consequences of violating it.”

Wage Laws

As with discrimination laws, rules regarding wages and working hours apply to all workers, irrespective of their immigration status or documentation. Federal judges have ruled that all workers have a right to protection under Fair Labor Standards Act and similar rules. Employers cannot skirt wage and hour requirements simply because their employees are undocumented. In addition, federal law forbids employers from reporting an undocumented worker to immigration authorities as a means of retaliation for filing a claim against the employer. No immigrant, regardless of their legal status, should fear exercising their workplace rights.

Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer

If you were disciplined or fired for a discriminatory reason, you may be able to file a claim. You should discuss your case with an employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible. Contact Scott Wagner and Associates, P.A. today.

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Florida 561-653-0008 California 213-377-5200
* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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