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First-Generation Immigrants Face Challenges Adjusting to New York City Employment Laws

Owen H. Laird, Esq.


Most employees who work in New York City are covered by the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) – one of the most liberal employment statutes in the nation.  This means that employees in New York City are afforded more protection against workplace discrimination and harassment than those who work outside of the City.


At the same time, New York City has one of the highest immigrant populations in the country, and many of those immigrants own or operate businesses in the City.  These immigrant-owned businesses are integral to the fabric of the city, and range from restaurants and corner stores to law firms and tech companies to factories and warehouses.


First-generation immigrant business owners face many challenges, not the least of which is adjusting to new cultural and legal climates that may be different from those in the countries from which they emigrated.  For example, recent immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia, or East Asia, might be unaccustomed to American laws and societal expectations concerning gender and sexual orientation.  This disconnect can lead to conflicts between employees and employers with differing understandings of workplace behavioral norms.


This is not to say that Human Rights laws are non-existent in the rest of the world; the vast majority of countries do have some form of anti-discrimination law on the books, yet employment discrimination remains a problem around the world.  Other sites have conducted case studies of how various examples or scenarios of discrimination would play out in the United States and abroad; here, for example is a brief comparison of Chinese and American antidiscrimination law and practice.


Adding another layer of complexity are New York and federal labor laws, which establish a right to minimum wage for nearly all employees, and a right to overtime for tens of millions of workers.  Once again, recent immigrant business-owners may have experience operating a business in their country of origin, which may or may not have had similar labor regulations to the United States.  This can cause a problem if the owner plans on conducting business as they did overseas, but do not appreciate or understand the different laws with which they must comply.


While the ultimate goal should be to ensure total compliance with human rights and labor laws, knowledge of the law is only one piece of the puzzle: many American-born citizens and business owners are not aware of their rights and obligations under the relevant anti-discrimination and labor laws; companies owned and run by life-long United States citizens are responsible for thousands upon thousands of infractions each year; and most businesses run by recent immigrants are not guilty of human rights or wage-and-hour violations.


Recent immigrants, however, must deal with the additional hurdle of un-learning business practices and policies they may have used prior to emigrating, but which are no longer acceptable under United States law.   When they fail to do so, intentionally or not, they may be in violation of applicable employment laws.


If you believe that your employer is violating federal, state, or city employment laws, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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