An investigation published in the Globe last Sunday on exploitation of immigrant workers in the construction business generated more than 140 comments and e-mails from readers. While opinions range widely on US policies around immigration, there are a number of state and federal laws that make clear an employer’s responsibilities to workers.
Here, we sought official responses to clarify a number of issues raised by readers.
“It’s unfortunate the men who are hurt on the job,’’ one reader said. But do they “automatically assume health care will be offered to an illegal resident?”
The issue here is not health benefits. It’s insurance to cover injuries and accidents on the job, and lost wages while a worker recuperates. Under Massachusetts state law, all employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover medical care for employees injured in accidents at work.
And under federal law, employers must report to OSHA (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration) any workplace death within eight hours and any injury resulting in a hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye within 24 hours.
Massachusetts employers must report injuries to the Department of Industrial Accidentscq when an employee has lost five or more days of wages.
Under state and federal law, contractors must pay anyone who has provided work for them at least the minimum wage — $10 an hour for most — even undocumented workers.
According to the US Department of Labor, “If you do the work, you’re entitled to proper payment — minimum wage and overtime (1.5 times the regular rate) — for work performed, and you’re entitled to a safe and healthful workplace.”
“Come here illegally and you deserve the same job, same benefits and protections that legal citizens have/are competing for?”
Employers are not permitted to hire unauthorized workers. They must have all workers complete a form I-9, which requires basic information such as name and date of birth, as well as documentation of citizenship or immigration and work status. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigationscq has fined employers for failing to follow the law.
However, when employers do hire unauthorized workers, they are still required to pay them minimum wage and provide workers’ compensation protection under state law.
“Does the AG’s office make a referral to ICE when it finds that an employer might be using undocumented immigrants?”
The attorney general’s office enforces wage and hour laws regardless of immigration status and does not report them to US Immigration and Customs Enforcementcq. AG’s office officials “do not inquire about or know worker documentation status; we simply investigate compliance by the employer with the wage and hour laws.”
Reporting a worker to immigration authorities for complaining about violations of his or her rights under the wage and hour laws is considered retaliation and is subject to penalties, including fines or jail time.
“An employer can pay his employee whatever he wants to. People have been paid in cash for many years for odd jobs.”
An employer who pays workers in cash is legally required to keep records of the payments, and must pay payroll taxes and unemployment insurance. Paying people “under the table” is often a way to cut costs in order to underbid contractors who play by the rules.
Employers are required to pay minimum wage and overtime.
Sources: Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, the US Department of Labor, Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, workers’ compensation lawyers, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.