California Supreme Court: Protections for Unauthorized Workers Using False ID

Jun 27 2014 - Form I-9, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Policies - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued a decision relating to legal protections for unauthorized workers. The case involved a lawsuit by Vicente Salas, who injured his back on the job and then sued his employer for failure to accommodate his disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and for retaliation after he filed a workers’ compensation claim. Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co.

During the course of the litigation, the employer, Sierra Chemical Co., learned that Salas had been working for them using another man’s Social Security number and that he was not legally authorized to work in the United States. Sierra Chemical sought to have the case dismissed using the doctrine of “unclean hands” – an argument that the employee’s wrongdoing should bar his/her lawsuit. Sierra Chemical also argued that federal immigration law pre-empted Salas’ lawsuit.

The California Supreme Court allowed the lawsuit to proceed because state law provides job protections “regardless of immigration status.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Joyce Kennard, stated: “Although federal immigration law prohibits an unauthorized alien’s use of any false document to get a job, that law does not prohibit an employer from paying, or an employee from receiving, wages earned during employment wrongfully obtained by false documents, so long as the employer remains unaware of the employee’s unauthorized status.”

The court allowed back pay damages up until the employer discovered the employee was unauthorized to work.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

Visit HRCalifornia’s HR Library for helpful information regarding Immigrant Workers and Discrimination/Retaliation Protections and how to comply with federal requirements related to verifying employment eligibility. Not a CalChamber member? Learn more about what HRCalifornia can do for you.

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