My Employer Refuses to Pay me Wages That I Earned, but I am an Undocumented Worker. Can I do Anything?

male-farm-worker-tractorCalifornia is home to almost 11 million immigrants. We have the largest number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States – an estimated 2.4 million people.

Nearly one in ten California workers is an undocumented immigrant, employed mainly in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. Immigrants make up a notable share of our population and are an integral part of our communities.

Yet, many unauthorized immigrants experience wage theft, such as being paid lower than minimum wage, no overtime pay, and no breaks.

If you are an undocumented worker and are not being paid wages that you earned, you generally have the same rights as any other California resident. However, you may have some understandable hesitations about taking legal action. It is important to have an experienced, compassionate attorney on your side.


When you hire an attorney, what you say to him or her is strictly confidential. Client legal privilege is a rule of law that protects your communications with your lawyer. You can safely talk with your attorney without worrying that information will be shared without your permission.

Affording Legal Help

Many wage and hour attorneys, including the Arnold Law Firm, offer legal representation based on contingency, a percentage of the money we obtain for you. You do not need funds upfront to hire us, because we are not paid unless we resolve your claim. Our legal team can evaluate your situation at no cost, and you will be under no obligation to hire us.

Wage Theft and Threats

Some employers wrongfully feel that undocumented workers do not deserve any rights and deny them wages, sick days, breaks, and overtime pay. They may even threaten to report workers to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they complain. These illegal threats intimidate employees into silence and impact the rest of the workplace.

Your Legal Rights

Undocumented workers generally have the same wage and hour rights as authorized workers. Federal and California laws establish your right to minimum wage, overtime pay, breaks, tips, and other forms of wages. Our state also has laws specifically to protect undocumented immigrants:

  • Your employer cannot use your immigration status to refuse to pay wages that you have earned.
  • Your employer cannot use your immigration status as an excuse to fire you because you complained about nonpayment of wages.
  • Employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers who assert their legal rights. If your employer retaliates against you because you complained about their unlawful working conditions, they are breaking the law a second time.
  • Your employer is prohibited from reporting or threatening to report your citizenship or immigration status, or that of a family member, because you exercised a right under the California Labor Code.
  • Employers are not permitted to let federal immigration agents onto private business property without a judicial warrant.

However, employers are required to refuse to hire, or terminate, an undocumented worker once they learn of his or her lack of work authorization. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it illegal for employers to knowingly hire or continue to employ undocumented workers.

If you are fired by your employer, it may become less clear whether you can recover the income you lost because you were fired, or whether you can get your job back. Your attorney will help you evaluate your situation and explain the law and how a lawsuit may be possible, regardless of your citizenship status.

California Values Act (SB 54)

Access to justice and due process is essential for everyone, and public facilities need to be safe and accessible to all California residents, regardless of immigration status. If unauthorized immigrants are afraid to access courthouses, they are then unable to access the legal system in place to protect people, and they will be deprived of their legal rights.

California has taken measures to give unauthorized immigrants greater certainty that ICE agents will not be present in California courtrooms, creating a safer environment for immigrants to access the legal system and obtain due process.

The 2018 California Values Act (SB 54) ensures that no state and local resources are used to assist federal immigration enforcement and that our schools, our hospitals, and our courthouses are safe spaces for everyone in our community. SB 54 includes a provision to make courts and government buildings more accessible to unauthorized immigrants by decreasing the risk of detention by ICE agents while pursuing claims. 

It is important to note that the state of California cannot stop ICE agents from lawfully arresting and removing any unauthorized immigrant who is present in the state.

Legal Representation

If you are an undocumented worker and are not being paid wages that you have earned, the Arnold Law Firm can help. We can confidentially evaluate your situation at no cost or obligation and answer any questions you may have about the process of filing a claim.

Give us a call at (916) 777-7777 or complete our online evaluation form.