The United States enjoys relationships with countries around the world. Those relationships include many foreign officials living and working within the country as ambassadors, government officials and staff. Many of these officials have diplomatic immunity, protecting them from being prosecuted for crimes in the U.S. But those immunities have limits, as one consular official recently learned.
A consular official from India was arrested recently for paying her maid too little and for lying on her visa forms about how much the maid was paid. Advocates against this practice say that immunity complicates matters and many of the victim’s claims are handled in civil court, rather than criminal court.
In the current case, the Indian official has been criminally charged for lying on her visa paperwork. The official indicated she paid the maid more than $4,000 per month, but actually paid the woman less than $3 per hour, which is a violation of employment law. So far the case has been handled in criminal court, but there is the potential for employment litigation from the case in the future.
The case is complicated because of arguments over diplomatic immunity and whether this official qualifies for the immunity. Her attorney argues that she does have immunity, while the U.S. State Department argues she does not. The type of immunity a foreign official receives is based on their job level.
In a similar case from 2011, an Italian official was arrested for abusing his servant. The official did not have diplomatic immunity and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Many of these cases don’t end up in criminal court. There are so many obstacles surrounding immunity laws that most cases involving human trafficking and mistreatment of employees are not ever reported or simply go uncharged. It is important that all workers know, however, that they have the right to be treated and compensated fairly by their employers.
Source: The Washington Post, “Worker abuse by diplomats a problem, advocates say,” Dec. 29, 2013