The Nation reported today on working conditions for participants in the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, which provides over 100,000 foreign college students with J-1 visas to work in the United States each summer. According to a recent investigation by the International Labor Recruitment Group, SWT participants are frequently victims wage theft, and workplace harassment and discrimination. Sponsoring agencies match the students with employers, usually in the hospitality, entertainment, and retail industries; the largest employers of SWT participants are McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Disney. Because SWT participants are considered part of an “international exchange,” they are not protected by certain health and safety regulations, do not collect Social Security and health care benefits, and are not guaranteed a minimum wage. And, as foreign workers, SWT participants are typically ineligible for the legal-aid services that US residents often rely on for representation in civil actions.
On Tuesday, the American Federation of Government Employees—the largest federal employee union—filed a complaint in federal court challenging guidance from the Office of the Special Counsel warning federal employees against using terms like “resistance” or “#resist” in statements regarding President Trump. The guidance, issued in November, warns that use of the term “resistance,” as well as any statements regarding impeachment of the President, could be considered violations of the Hatch Act, which limits certain political activities of federal employees. The AFGE contends that the guidance violates federal employees’ First Amendment rights. “There has never been a time where it’s more important for federal employees to speak up when they see wrongdoing,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a watchdog group representing the AFGE. “The American Public relies on civil servants to blow the whistle when they see something wrong.”
On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law an omnibus bill that aims to bolster protections for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The law extends the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims filed with the Division of Human Rights from one to three years, removes a requirement that claimants prove that purportedly harassing behavior was “severe or pervasive” in order to prevail under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and subjects employers to liability for sexual harassment even if employees did not follow company policies for reporting their claims. It also expands the reach of the NYSHRL to provide the same protections to non-employees as employees, and to subject all employers, regardless of size, to claims for sexual harassment.
On Friday, August 9, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a similar bill enacting a series of laws to combat workplace sexual harassment in the state. One of those laws, the Workplace Transparency Act, will prohibit employers from contractually restricting their employees’ ability to report allegations of unlawful conduct for investigation by state and federal authorities, and from requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements for claims related to unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliations. The bill also amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to permit non-employees in the workplace to bring harassment claims.