The growth of the gig economy continues to change the relationship between a large percentage of the U.S. work force and employers. In 2014, approximately 34 percent of workers were independent contractors. Surveys indicate that total is expected to push 50 percent by 2020.
The freelance structure that permeates all types of industries has pros and cons for most workers. On the plus side, by becoming their own boss, many workers are able to choose the types of projects they work on and create more flexible schedules in order to control work-life balance.
For undocumented workers, however, their relationship with employers remains as it has been for decades. Unfortunately, what has changed is a more aggressive attitude nationally against people who are in the U.S. illegally. According to some reports, this has resulted in an increase in incidents in which employers reach agreement with undocumented workers, then fail to hold up their end of the deal and threaten to report the workers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they complain.
Undocumented Workers Have Rights
Undocumented workers are protected by federal and state minimum wage and other workplace laws, yet immigrant advocates say these workers are less likely to report employers who do not pay for completed work because they fear they will be reported to ICE.
An ICE representative told the Los Angeles Times its agreement with the U.S. Labor Department is to refrain from conducting workplace enforcement at a business under investigation by the Labor Department (except in rare circumstances).
Undocumented workers who find themselves in a dispute with an employer over minimum wage, overtime pay, nonpayment or other labor infractions should be aware they have the right to sue and recover damages without risking retribution by that employer regarding legal status.
However, given the current environment of heightened immigration enforcement that is led by the Trump administration, it is wise to confer with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer before contacting any government body or taking other action.