ALJ Finds H-1B Employer liable for Back Wages and Retaliatory Discharge

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Department of Labor (DOL) recently ordered the employer of an IT company to pay the alien beneficiary’s unpaid salary for the full term of the H-1B visa with interest, an amount for his monthly health, dental and vision insurance benefits, an amount for his unpaid annual 401(k) contributions with interest, his litigation travel expenses, and ordered the return of his work experience certificate and H-1B extension approval notice.

The Petitioner filed an H-1B nonimmigrant petition on behalf of a Chinese national to work in an IT specialty occupation. The filed H-1B petition contained a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) which detailed the salary the alien beneficiary was to be paid and made several other attestations that the employer acknowledged. The H-1B program contains strong provisions to ensure that U.S. and foreign workers are protected. Employers must guarantee that U.S. workers will not be adversely affected upon the hiring of an H-1B professional. For instance, a U.S. employer using the program must also guarantee that (1)the foreign professional will not adversely affect the working conditions of U.S. workers; (2) the foreign professional will be paid the greater of the job’s actual wage rate or the prevailing wage rate throughout the entire period of authorized employment; (3) U.S. colleagues will be given notice of the foreign professional’s presence among them; (4) there is no strike or lockout at the worksite; and (5) the position requires a professional in a specialty occupation and the intended employee has the required qualifications.

The problem arose when the alien beneficiary received no work and no pay. The alien beneficiary came to the United States to seek work in a specialty occupation; however, the investigation conducted by the DOL illustrated that the petitioning company never really had any work for the alien worker. The evidence indicates that the petitioning company brought the H-1B worker to the U.S. intending to contract his labor out to other entities, rather than to use the worker’s labor directly in the business. With this plan, the petitioning employer was more of an employment broker than a traditional employer, and would not pay the worker until it collected the money from the entities that actually utilized the worker’s professional skills. This practice is often referred to as “benching.” Benching is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and accordingly forbidden by the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. The alien worker was in the U.S., not working and not receiving any type of salary, health insurance or other benefits that were guaranteed by his employment contract and by his signed and certified LCA. The record shows that the alien worker kept in contact with several of his employer’s staff and was never told that his work was inadequate or that the employer intended to terminate his employment.

After much confusion and frustration, the alien worker contacted the DOL and submitted a complaint about his employer not paying his salary. The alien worker was advised to wait a while to see if he would be placed on a job; however, that never happened. The DOL then went forward with their investigation and uncovered a lot of information that indicated that the employer was not following or obeying the various regulations involved with the H-1B program. As a result of the alien worker filing the complaint with the DOL, the employer attempted to retaliate and revoke/terminate the alien worker’s H-1B visa. In order to terminate H-1B employment, which would absolve the company from its liability to pay the worker, there must be a meeting of the minds between the employer and the alien worker that employment has ended, and notice to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) of the termination, and if appropriate, money for the alien worker to return home. None of these actions occurred in this case. The employer alleged that they had already terminated the alien worker before the complaint was filed, and alleged that they purchased a ticket back to China for the worker, but after investigation, these allegations were proven false.

As a result of the investigation, the Administrative Judge ordered the employer to pay the alien worker his salary for the authorized period of his H-1B visa with interest, an amount for his health, dental and vision benefits for the same period, an amount for his 401(K) annual contributions, an amount for his litigation travel expenses, and among other things, the return of the alien worker’s H-1B extension approval notice, so that he may seek work with another H-1B sponsoring employer.