According to one recent study, unauthorized immigrants make up 5.8 percent of Florida’s workforce. Ineligible for benefits such as food stamps or welfare, many illegal immigrants have no choice but to work to put food on the table. Many employers, faced with rising overhead, are quick to pay these workers “under the table.” Some companies will contract jobs to contractors or subcontractors and simply “look the other way” even though they are fully aware illegal aliens are performing the work.
In most instances, the immigrants are hard workers. Needing money to live and feed their children, they sometimes even work in dangerous conditions. In fields such as construction, painting, or cleaning, where most documented employees would refuse to perform work in areas with inadequate ventilation or without safety equipment, many times immigrants have no choice but to work, risking their health and sometimes lives.
Another, and more common, risks illegal immigrants face is non-payment. Employers, already having no documentation on the illegal aliens they hire, will sometimes flatly deny that the employment relationship existed or that the workers ever did the work. In many of these cases the unpaid workers, faced with language barriers and lack of legal knowledge, or fearing possible deportation, will sadly never get paid.
Legally, however, illegal immigrants can sue for their unpaid wages.
In June of 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reiterated a 1988 case in holding that illegal aliens are “employees” covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Galdames v. N & D Inv. Corp., 432 Fed.Appx. 801, 804 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Patel v. Quality Inn South, 846 F.2d 700 (11th Cir.1988)); see also Solano v. A Navas Party Prod., Inc., 728 F.Supp.2d 1334, 1339 (S.D. Fla. 2010).
If an unpaid worker files a lawsuit and wins, he or she can obtain an award of not only his wages, but also time and a half for any hours worked over 40 per week (overtime), plus equal amounts of the overtime award or minimum wage award in liquidated damages, plus attorney fees and costs.
If workers are unpaid for the work they perform, whether their immigration status is legal or not, they should consult with an attorney. However, the claim must be made within the applicable statute of limitations which, in many cases, can be as little as two years from the date the work was performed.
If you have any questions pertaining to non-payment of workers, feel free to contact us or call our law office at 407-965-5519.