DOL again takes action to combat employer exploitation, this time regarding immigrant workers

The United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently issued new guidelines about how to enlist the DOL’s help with fending off retaliation by employers against employees from other countries who report wage theft, workplace safety violations, and/or similar problems. The DOL’s action reflects the understanding that effective law enforcement depends on employees coming forward to report violations and then cooperating with the prosecution of the resulting cases. Retaliation by employers discourages this essential participation of employees, so the DOL is making a priority of helping immigrant workers to obtain a visa or other immigration-related remedies as part of the law-enforcement process.

Given immigrant workers are often among the most vulnerable employees in the economy, they frequently experience more egregious violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and other laws enforced by the DOL. Empowering these employees to step up and speak out helps to ensure greater workplace fairness for all employees because immigrant workers are like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. For similar reasons, the National Labor Relations Board has issued guidelines regarding enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act that closely resemble those issued by the DOL regarding enforcement of wage, workplace safety, and similar laws. Hopefully, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will soon adopt similar guidelines as well to enhance the enforcement of Title VII and other civil rights statutes governing employers.