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Sep 16, 2014

By Mel M. C. Cole

What started as a local effort has now become a national endeavor, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially agree to join forces to create programs that will benefit both Mexican nationals working in the United States as well as their employers.

Late last month, Jacqueline Berrien, the Chair of the EEOC, and Eduardo Mora, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, signed a national Memorandum of Understanding, committed to strengthening outreach on workplace rights, as well as reducing violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Pregnancy Discrimination Act; the Equal Pay Act of 1963; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; and the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act of 2008.

Routing compensation to Mexican nationals

In particular, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) focuses on the harms addressed by the laws and regulations that are administered and enforced by the EEOC.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the MOU is a proposed system through which compensation collected by the EEOC from “responsible employers” in the U.S. can be routed to Mexican nationals who have returned to Mexico. The EEOC will provide identifying information to the Mexican Consulate, who will then pass the baton to their counterparts in Mexico to contact these former employees.

If and when the Mexican government succeeds in reaching an employee owed compensation, the EEOC will then route a check from the former employer to the worker, with the help of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Notably, the Memorandum of Understanding describes this system as a goal – not a mandate – making its potential effectiveness and impact on both employers and workers difficult to evaluate at such an early stage.

The centerpiece of the Memorandum of Understanding is a commitment to an educational program that combines outreach to employers and workers with the training of consulate staff by the EEOC.

Guidance from the EEOC

The EEOC aims to provide guidance to the Mexican national community both inside our neighboring country’s local consulates as well as in other “appropriate forums” that will better reach both the working Mexican national, as well as the person employing him or her. The MOU also focuses on promoting dialogue on employment discrimination and equal employment opportunity, the EEOC’s bread and butter.

The EEOC is not the first nor the only American agency to engage in such an endeavor with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As we previously reported, the U.S. Department of Labor  recently announced that the Wage & Hour Division, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Labor Relations Board reached workplace protection agreements with several Mexican consulates in Arizona to encourage immigrant workers to report workplace problems.

OSHA and the Labor Department entered into such agreements with the Mexican consulates in Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, Nogales, and Douglas. The NLRB entered into an agreement with the Mexican consulate in Phoenix.

An agreement to increase education and awareness regarding the rights of workers in the United States, regardless of nationality, could impact not only the workers but the employers who are tasked with creating a compliant workplace in an already convoluted legal system.

Ultimately, we will not know the reach of the effects until we see how seriously the two governments take the goals established in the Memorandum of Understanding. What we do know, however, is that employers – no matter what happens – will be paying attention.

This was originally published on Littler Mendelson’s Global Mobility & Immigration Counsel blog© 2014 Littler Mendelson. All Rights Reserved. Littler®, Employment & Labor Law Solutions Worldwide® and ASAP® are registered trademarks of Littler Mendelson, P.C.