Remedies for victims of human labor trafficking
My employer brought me to America to work as live-in nanny for their youngest child. I would be paid $1,000 per month with weekends off. When we arrived in Los Angeles, my employer took my passport. At their home, I work 7 days a week, 14 to 16 hours per day. I take care of an infant and also cook, clean, and laundry for the entire family. I am not allowed to leave the house without my employer. Instead of the promised $1,000, I was paid $300 per month. When I complained, my employer told me I was lucky that I have free room and food. I was then told that if I leave, I will be deported because my visa is expired. What should I do?
A: Call the police. Or have someone call the police for you. It is better to ask law enforcement for help because what is being done to you may not only be illegal but also criminal. You may be a victim of human trafficking, specifically, labor trafficking.
Human trafficking is obtaining labor by the use of force, fraud or coercion in order to subject a person to involuntary servitude or slavery. Human trafficking is a criminal offense. However, the laws also allow the victims to obtain civil remedies (i.e., money) against the traffickers.
Why should victims care about civil remedies? Because restitution in criminal proceedings is often not enough to compensate a victim for all her/his damages. Victims of labor trafficking may be paid only the equivalent of wages owed to them. But what about the victim’s physical or emotional injuries while living under the control of the trafficker? For these types of injuries, only civil remedies are available.
In California, trafficking victims are allowed to sue their so-called “employers” for “forced labor,” which means labor or services obtained or maintained through force, fraud, or coercion. Trafficking victims are entitled to:
- Actual damages (proper wages owed under California law, including overtime pay, interest, and penalties)
- Damages for emotional distress
- Treble damages (which means the victim’s actual damages multiplied by three)
- Punitive damages
- Attorneys fees
Trafficking victims do not have to be physically restrained (or locked up) by the “employer.” They may be able to go outside the home of the “employer” but the “employer” still maintains psychological control over them by threats of harm to them or their family, or threats of being arrested by police or of being deported.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), there is no single profile for trafficking victims – they can be any age, from any economic background, with varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented. They can be foreign nationals or American citizens. For as long as they are compelled by force, fraud, or coercion to provide labor or services, they are victims of labor trafficking.
Human trafficking violates criminal and employment laws. Thus, while trafficking victims continue to cooperate with law enforcement and other government agencies regarding their situation, it is also equally important for them to consult with an experienced employment attorney to help them obtain all available civil remedies against their traffickers.
The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com or our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]