Undocumented workers gain protection under wage laws

Q&A with Charlie Plumb

published in The Oklahoman | April 25, 2013

Charlie Plumb, an attorney with McAfee & Taft’s Labor and Employment Group, was interviewed by The Oklahoman about a recent lawsuit in which a federal appeals court ruled that undocumented aliens were eligible for the same protections under the Federal Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) as all other company employees.

In this case, several employees of a Florida-based company sued their employer for failure to pay overtime owed to them. At trial, the company established that one of the plaintiffs was an undocumented alien who had used a false Social Security number to apply for his job. The employer then argued that workers who violate federal law should not be entitled to recover damages resulting from their own wrongdoing.

Plumb explained that the court rejected the employer’s argument, ruling that the plaintiffs were entitled to overtime pay because they met the statutory definition of an “employee” under the FLSA, and because the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 doesn’t exclude undocumented aliens from the protections of federal wage and hour laws.

In addition to advising employer to exercise diligence when completing Form I-9s, Plumb offered this advice to employers: “In those cases where an employer inadvertently hires someone who is not authorized to work, while it may mean an end to their current job, the undocumented alien is nonetheless entitled to be paid for any work they have already performed according to our federal employment laws.”