U.S. cracks down on verification of new employees

The federal government is stepping up its enforcement efforts against employers who fail to verify new employees’ eligibility to work in the U.S. In some cases, it’s levying serious fines against employers who don’t do proper verifications – even if the employer never hired an illegal worker as a result.

For example, clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch was fined more than $1 million by the government for failing to verify employees’ eligibility to work at its stores in Michigan. And in that case, there was no evidence that Abercrombie actually employed any illegal workers.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement simply found deficiencies in Abercrombie’s electronic I-9 verification system when it conducted an inspection. This was enough for a serious fine.

Of course, smaller companies won’t face penalties this high. But when an employer doesn’t fully comply with the I-9 process, it can still face fines of up to $1,100 per employee.

So it’s important for companies to check their employee verification systems to make sure they’re compliant. And employers that do receive notice of an I-9 inspection should take it very seriously.

At the same time, employers should take care not to overdo their efforts to verify employee eligibility, because they could face legal problems there as well.

For instance, when the stadium concession company Aramark received notice that the Social Security numbers provided by some of its workers didn’t match up with those in the government’s database, it gave 48 of those employees three days to come up with documents resolving the discrepancy.

A week later, it fired 33 of the workers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

But a federal appeals court ruled that Aramark overreacted, and ordered the employees reinstated with back pay.

It’s also important to remember that the I-9 process only requires an employee to provide an “A List” document and either a “B List” or “C List” document.

Some employers demand documents from both the B List and C List, or insist that an employee provide specific documents from the lists without letting them choose. This is a mistake. If an employer demands these documents from Hispanic workers but not from other workers, it could face a claim for discrimination based on national origin.