Do illegal immigrants have any ways of dealing with unfair employers?

Here’s a completely hypothetical situation: I decide I want to hire a house-cleaner to come in twice a week, and I find an attractive young woman to do this. She’s 23 years old, beautiful, great ass, the whole deal - she’s also an illegal immigrant from El Salvador. She has no documentation whatsoever, she only knows rudimentary English; all she has to get by on in this great country of ours are her wits, her big brown eyes, and her beautiful little ass. So, naturally, I hire her, and she cleans my house.

A few weeks go by and I decide to make a move on her. Say she’s down on all fours, scrubbing the tile in my kitchen, when I tell her to take a break and rest for a while. I open a bottle of wine or beer or something, and offer her a drink. One drink turns to two, and three, and then we’re sitting on the couch laughing over some drawings that I’m showing her (I figure the best way to entertain someone who can’t really speak English is to show her some kind of visual media that doesn’t require language to be understood.) Gradually during this interaction I have begun introducing light, casual physical contact - touching her shoulder, whatever. You all know how it goes. Anyway, there’s a moment when our eyes meet, and with the sweet sounds of Zager & Evans resonating from my stereo, The Candy Machine providing a suitably dreamy musical backdrop to our little romantic interlude, I lean over and kiss her. We begin kissing, and then my hand goes under her shirt.

All of a sudden she pulls back from me, looking nervous, trying (ineffectively) to communicate to me that for whatever reasons she doesn’t want to go any further with this encounter. Maybe she just let herself get carried away by the wine, and now the stern voice of Jesus is jolting her back into reality. I am left sitting there, frustrated and disappointed. The record playing in the background has started skipping, with the immaculate harmonized voices of Rick Evans and Denny Zager repeating “I was a—I was a—I was a—I was a—” over and over again, ominously. I get up, standing over her, and (remember this is completely hypothetical and not something I would ever actually do) shout to her, “You fuck me, or no more work for you.”

Carmelita weighs these choices in her head. She needs the job; she has a family to support back home. However, she also has her dignity, and she will not give that up. So, she decides she would rather be an unemployed virgin than an employed whore. She throws a glass of wine in my face, shouts some obscenities at me, and then storms out of my house.

Where can she go now? Since she’s an illegal immigrant, she can’t just go to a lawyer and sue me (can she)? Are there lawyers or legal aid societies who represent illegal immigrants with no documentation? If she wanted to sue me for sexual harrassment, could she actually pull this off somehow?

Don’t employ illegal immigrants as cleaners. They lead to legal problems.

I am not your lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

The National Immigration Law Center assists low income immigrants. A NILC white paper [Warning: PDF] states that federal and state labor and employment laws protect workers regardless of immigration status. I’m not sure, but I think this would include protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, gender or religion.

In the Real World, employers of Illegals are very careful to treat them exactly like their citizen employees. That way if ICE/INS comes in on a raid, and your undocumented workers have at least some sort of fake docs, you can show plausible deniablity.

If you are paying them half or under the table, that’s pretty solid proof you knew they were illegal, and there’s heavy fines at least.

Now in the case of “Carmelita”, since her settlement would be enough to set her up in a really nice home with her own servants back home, she might very well sue. Why not? Sure, she’d have to go back home, but with that check she’d have, it’d be worth it.

OTOH, marrying the boss is another way to get papers and financial security, so she might be more inclined than some other women might.

there is also the traditional way to deal with unfair employers, regardless of your immigration status. A method dating back centuries which has served people very well long before the advent of the current litigious and over-regulated society. It’s called “don’t work for bad people, go somewhere else”. If you are smart enough to insist on regular salary payments this gets even easier because then there are no debts from your boss to you to keep you attached. Just swing the door into the bastard’s face and find a better employer. Simple, huh?

I’m sorry, but no. Illegal immigrants are one of the most exploited populations in the U.S. today. Employers know damn well they don’t have to treat them like they treat their other employees, so they get the dirtiest, grossest, most dangerous jobs and are frequently sexually harrassed, injured, and tricked into working without pay. One significant problem we had when I participated in the Migrant Farmworker Education and Outreach Program in Michigan was the fact that many immigrants were subjected to working conditions that are flat-out illegal in this country, and when they complained to superiors they were threatened with deportation. This included exposure to pesticides without the proper safety protocols which not infrequently resulted in immigrants becoming very sick and in some cases developing long-term medical conditions. So part of the job of MFEOP participants was to teach pesticide safety rights and regulations.

These people do have some legal protection in this country when they are exploited, but the problem is that only a small number of them are aware of their rights or courageous enough to find out. The general approach to being an illegal immigrant in the U.S. is to do nothing that would possibly draw attention to yourself, including report workplace abuse. Perceived powerlessness can be every bit as damaging as actual powerlessness.

ETA: My source is very right-wing; don’t take it to mean I support the conclusion drawn by the author.

Another link: Fact Sheet: The Exploitation of Undocumented Workers

(bolding mine)

So obviously, yeah, they’re treated differently.

I want this to end with her molesting you with a plunger.

Lemme guess, you’re going to try to score by showing her pictures of medieval armor and telling her how awesome the cuirassiers were?

Illegals have rights, but along with those rights go consequences.

If they are sexually harassed they can sue for damages. Of course they are going to be exposed and whether they collect any money is seperate from the crime of being here without proper documentation.

Think of it like a few years back there was a guy who broke out of jail and had been on the run for like ten years. He was never caught and getting buy. He bought a ticket and won the lottery. A few million. Well he went to collect and got caught.

I belive it was in Connecticut, and there was a debate on whether or not he should be allowed to keep the money. After all he should’ve been in prison and if he was he wouldn’t have been able to buy a lottery ticket.

Same thing here, you can’t sexually harass someone but if she’s not documented then it’s a trade off.

Also employers have to make sure that they employee LEGAL immigrants and they have a responsiblity to make sure if they suspect someone is not legally documented they investigate.

So in the OP senerio there would be a lot of trade offs involved.

Just because one is in this country undocumented doesn’t mean they lose all their rights. On the other hand because one of their rights are violated doesn’t absolve them from any crimes committed.

This is not legal advice. For legal advice, you need to consult a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction who has expertise in this area of law, which I do not. I am not your lawyer and you are not my client.

So far as I can tell from reading the federal statute, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, is the source for sexual harrassment causes of action, and it applies only to employers with fifteen or more employees. State law in whatever state this scenario actually plays itself out would have to supply additional information.

In general, I imagine the hurdles such claims face are practical ones. An illegal immigrant can certainly still sue for damages, but runs the risk of discovery and deportation if she does.

Just as another angle to this, if she is coming in twice a week to clean, she is more likely to be considered self-employed than an employee, assuming like most cleaners she provides her own supplies, cleans for other customers, etc. (See IRS 20-factor test for gruesome details). So she is running her own business and can decide whether or not you are worth it as a customer.

The more common scenario for an exploited illegal immigrant woman is to be in a live-in, full-time situation, where she is also fairly dependent on the employer for a place to live. There she would have whatever limited protections are provided by law to household employees, but would have additional practical limitations on exercising her rights.

IANAL, but isn’t there some legal principle that a contract regarding an illegal transaction is null and void? For instance, if John Doe and I draw up a contract in which I agree to deliver him XXX pounds of heroin at XXX dollars, and something goes wrong, he can’t sue for damages (assuming he’s willing to take the time in jail) because the contract is void.

Isn’t that the same situation for an illegal immigrant worker? That employment contract, even if it was oral, should be considered null and void and therefore any sexual harassment didn’t happen? But, I’m sure I’m wrong, but I don’t see why.

jtgain, sometimes a worker was legal and becomes illegal later; sometimes on purpose (his or that of his employer), sometimes because the paperwork takes so long that his work permit or other necessary documents expire.

I’ve been on the receiving end of both an employer whose standard procedure for renewing worker’s permits was not to issue the letter workers needed in order to renew the permits and of being “SS-card-less” for three months while the CIA decided whether I was a dangerous terrorist or not (they had to approve me before SS could issue my new SS card). The first time, when I called INS to ask whether I could do anything, I got called a “stupid whore,” information I did not find particularly helpful.

You seem like you have spent quite a lot of time thinking about this scenario, eh Argent Towers?

The cuirassiers were not Medieval. Cuirassiers were the successor to the heavy lancer, a form of cavalry which had died out in the late 1500s. Their heyday was the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 which was anything but Medieval.

Wait, so does that mean I can make sexual ultimatums to my part-time maid? Er, I mean Argent Towers can?

Yes, I am slightly confused as to what grounds she would have basis to sue me on. It’s not like she signed some kind of official contract and filled out paperwork and everything. As far as anyone’s concerned, she’s just a sexy little number who happens to come to my house and clean it, in exchange for some cash. Could she really win a lawsuit against me - enough to “set her up in a really nice home with her own servants back home”? Really?

There are essentially 3 employment arrangements common for housecleaners in the US – hiring an essentially full-time household employee (not *that *common unless you’re pretty rich, obviously), hiring someone from a service, and hiring an independent contractor.

I think we covered how the full-time employee is likely to be screwed in this situation – she has very limited legal rights depending on state or local law and if she is alone, new to the country, etc. she is very vulnerable to exploitation. Having an employer solicit consensual sex could really be the least of it. If it crosses the line into illegal activity (assault, say, or kidnapping) she could press criminal charges, although it might have consequences for her.

If she works for a cleaning service, she could complain to them and (theoretically) if they have 15 or more employees or additional protections under state law, the cleaning service could have some liability if they keep making her work in harassing conditions. If the cleaning service got repeated complaints, they’d probably drop you as a customer to limit their liability.

If she is an independent contractor (runs her own business cleaning part-time for multiple clients), she can decide not to do business with you, but unless your advances cross the line into some illegal activity I can’t see any way she, even as an American citizen, would have grounds to sue you. If I show up trying to sell you some Tupperware, and you say you’d rather sleep with me instead, I just need to move on to the next potential customer. (Googling, I found that California does have sexual harassment protection for service workers who are contractors in its FEHA).

Women in the low wage workforce in general don’t have strong protections against sexual harassment. Even for workers in big companies or government, where Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies, the process would involve exhausting internal channels, filing a complaint with the EEOC, then bringing a lawsuit, trying to prove her case at every stage. Even for professional women, that’s pretty daunting. True, there might be some negative consequences for the perpetrator without her actually winning the lawsuit, but she doesn’t get restitution unless/ until she wins.

As far as I can tell, for most part-time cleaners, the fact that she is an illegal immigrant doesn’t make much of a difference. It does make her more likely to find herself working in that type of a job, though. This type of vulnerability is one thing that would make the job undesirable to women with more options.

ETA: If she happens to successfully bring a suit in one of the states or localities that provide this type of protection, that is her “best shot” at getting a settlement. But in the vast majority of the US, she won’t have much protection. And the settlement presumably won’t be for more than you are actually worth and an attorney would most likely have taken it on contingency. So not an easy road to riches.

A contract to commit an illegal act is invalid at common law, but it’s entirely possible for the legislature to bring in a statute that overrides this rule in particular situations (such as saying that the fact someone is working illegally or under the table doesn’t prevent them bringing procedures when the employer abuses his position). I don’t know if that’s the case in the US or OP’s part of it, though.