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FLSA Applies to Undocumented Workers

The 8th Circuit recently affirmed that
undocumented workers are entitled to the protections of the Fair Labor
Standards Act.  In Lucas v. Jerusalem Café, the court ruled in favor of six restaurant
workers who claimed their employer willfully violated the FLSA.

The workers, Guatemalan nationals without U.S. work
authorization, were paid in cash by the restaurant at a fixed weekly rate
irrespective of their number of hours worked or whether overtime was
required
.  Some were paid less than the
minimum wage.  At trial, the restaurant
tried to argue that the workers were “volunteers” at the restaurant, a theory
the jury rejected.  The district court
had previously rejected the restaurant’s arguments that the workers did not
have standing because they were undocumented workers, and that they were
prohibited from receiving wages as undocumented workers.

The 8th Circuit reasoned that undocumented
workers are eligible to receive back wages under the FLSA.  It noted that under the FLSA’s broad
definition of “employee,” undocumented workers are covered, and that there was
no legislative history indicating that Congress meant to exclude undocumented
workers.  The Court also rejected the
applicability of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hoffman Plastics, where the Court ruled that undocumented workers
are ineligible to receive back pay under the NLRA.  While the restaurant argued that that
decision amended the FLSA to exclude undocumented workers, the 8th Circuit
found that the Hoffman decision only applied
to back pay, and did not exclude undocumented workers from all NLRA
protections, and also chose to give Skidmore
deference to the Department of Labor’s position that the FLSA applies to
undocumented workers.

Finally, the 8th Circuit noted that the workers
had both Article III and prudential standing, as they were employees within the
meaning of the FLSA and were thus within the “zone of interest” protected by
the statute.  In sum, the Court continued
the nationwide trend (as the 11th Circuit and several district
courts have also adopted this reasoning) finding that undocumented workers are
entitled to FLSA protections.  As such,
if you are an undocumented worker, you are entitled to wage protections and should
not be dissuaded from seeking legal help simply due to immigration status.