Human trafficking and abusive workplaces

Work must be voluntary. You have a right to leave any employment situation, particularly one that is forced, abusive, and/or exploitative.

Exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex using force, fraud, or coercion is a crime called human trafficking. There is no single profile of a trafficking victim. Victims of human trafficking can be anyone – regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, or citizenship status. Human trafficking can occur through psychological coercion or threats of non-physical harm, even without any physical violence or threats of physical harm or restraint. There are some warning signs that may indicate human trafficking. 

Traffickers, and the people who help them, may:

  • use threats and other intimidating acts (including threats of deportation) to make you or others feel too afraid to try to leave;
  • demand that you perform labor, services, or commercial sex acts (prostitution) to repay a debt;
  • use rules and controls to make it harder for you or others to leave, complain, or seek help;
  • take possession of passports or other important documents to make it harder to leave, complain, or seek help; or
  • make false promises about type of work, working hours, working or living conditions, or pay.
Portrait of depressed unhealthy lady, domestic violence victim human trafficking

We’re here to help.

If you or someone you know is being mistreated, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Trained specialists are available 24/7 to help in more than 200 languages. Your report is confidential and may be anonymous. The Hotline is operated by a non-governmental organization.

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (within the U.S.) or Text “BeFree” (233733).

If you’re in immediate danger, call the police at 911 (within the U.S.). Tell them the emergency, your location, and the phone number from which you are calling. Ask for an interpreter if you don’t speak English.

Additional resources

Victims of human trafficking are entitled to protections and services and may be eligible for some public benefits. You have the right to request help regardless of immigration status and to leave an abusive employment situation.

If you’re being abused, the most important thing is for you to seek safety. You don’t have to stay in your job if your employer is abusing you. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen and you’re working in the U.S. on a valid visa, your visa status may no longer be valid if you leave your employer, but you or be eligible for a U or T nonimmigrant visa. Help is available.

You may make a formal complaint or file a lawsuit against your employer while you’re working or after you leave your employer. If your employer takes action (or retaliates) against you for doing so, they’re violating the law.

Need more information?
The elaws (Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses) Advisors are a set of online tools developed by the U.S. Department of Labor to help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities under Federal employment laws.