Enforce Labor Protections to Improve Workers’ Lives

Employment and labor laws are only meaningful if effectively enforced. We’re working to strengthen enforcement so that policy wins make a real difference in workers’ lives.

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Upholding Workers’ Rights Is Central to a Good-Jobs Economy

A good-jobs economy is built on worker power and workers knowing and exercising their rights.

There are many fair pay and workplace safety laws on the books, but the reality is that these laws are not consistently enforced. Many workers still face exploitative practices like wage theft and preventable injuries or death on the job. Workers who speak up often suffer retaliation.

When employers are not held accountable for exploiting or endangering workers, it weakens our communities and undermines law-abiding employers.

NELP is at the forefront of designing policies to strengthen employment and labor law enforcement—so that policy wins yield real improvements in workers’ lives.

Why Enforcing Employment Laws Matters

We aim to shift the power balance between workers and employers so that workers can assert their rights and improve their workplace conditions. When there isn’t a balance of power, unscrupulous employers harm workers.


billion in wages are stolen each year in the U.S. from workers by exploitative employers.


of workers in the temp industry say they’ve had their wages stolen by their employers.


of workers who experience wage theft don’t report the violation or seek legal remedies out of fear of employer retaliation.

A Systemic Approach to Strengthening Enforcement

Government agencies and the courts are responsible for ensuring that employers comply with employment and labor laws, but generally it’s up to workers to come forward to report violations. That can be a scary thing to do, and many workers don’t because the system isn’t set up to protect them.

For our hard-fought workplace rights to be meaningful:

  • Workers must know their rights and have support when they speak up to exercise those rights.
  • Worker organizations, such as worker centers or unions, must be strong and well-resourced to build collective power with workers, and support workers asserting their workplace rights.
  • Policymakers need to pass laws that strengthen and expand workplace protections, contain clear tools to allow for the implementation of those rights, and allocate sufficient funds to the agencies charged with enforcing those laws.
  • Public agencies must be well-resourced to ensure that workers who come forward to report violations get a timely response and quick action to prevent and address retaliation. Employers must get the message that employment and labor law violations are unacceptable.

What Is Retaliation?

It’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for speaking up about working conditions, wages, or treatment. Retaliation by an employer can happen in a variety of ways, and it’s important for workers to know when it’s happening. Here are some common examples:

  • Firing a worker
  • Demoting a worker
  • Reducing a worker’s hours
  • Changing a worker’s schedule to a less favorable one
  • Subjecting a worker to new forms of harassment
  • Unfairly disciplining a worker
  • Threatening to report a worker (or a worker’s family member) to immigration authorities

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How Can We Prevent Employer Retaliation?

Fear of retaliation is the biggest barrier to workers speaking up and filing complaints against workplace abuse. These policies can help stop employer retaliation:

  1. Protect the identity of workers when they file claims or bring lawsuits.
  2. Create a presumption of retaliation if an employer takes any adverse or discriminatory action against the worker within a certain timeframe after the worker files a complaint.
  3. If workers do experience retaliation and income loss, provide quick access to financial support for basic needs, such as through a retaliation fund.
  4. Provide workers full protection and recourse available under the law, regardless of their immigration status, when they bring claims.
  5. Grant immigration relief to workers who experience workplace abuse by leveraging the “U” visa for immigrant victims of crimes.

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Retaliation Funds to Fight Wage Theft 

A retaliation fund can help workers come forward to report abuses without fear of financial disaster if their boss retaliates.

Strategic Partnerships to Improve Labor Enforcement

Strategic Enforcement Partnerships: We’re working to eliminate wage theft and other abuses by supporting worker centers to uphold employment and labor laws in partnership with government agencies.

Learn More