One of the biggest conversational landmines these days is the topic of undocumented employment. But regardless of your stance on the issue, you as a small-business owner are most likely concerned with doing the right thing ethically and legally.
Stephanie Rabiner of FindLaw.com wrote that the Immigration Reform and Control Act allows for criminal and civil penalties at the federal level for employers who “knowingly hire undocumented workers.”1 The U.S. Supreme Court also this year affirmed by a 5-3 vote an Arizona state law that revokes or suspends business licenses of those who hire undocumented workers, according to The Wall Street Journal’s “Law Blog.”2
Here is a defused, dispassionate primer on E-Verify and a new bill on the Congressional to-do list, the Legal Workforce Act.
What is E-Verify?
Employers have long used Form I-9 to verify eligibility for employment. Employees are required to fill out Form I-9 prior to beginning employment. Employees also have to present documentation of their identities and lawful immigration status, such as driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, U.S. passports, and permanent-resident cards. Employers are responsible for keeping copies of these forms on file and are permitted, but not required, to also photocopy the accompanying documentation.
E-Verify is a modernized system used by employers to determine the validity of applicants’ eligibility by comparing their information with Social Security Administration records and Department of Homeland Security data. E-Verify is voluntary for most employers except for those who do business in states that mandate it, and for those who have “federal contracts or subcontracts that contain the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause,” according to the DHS website.3
As a tool for determining employment eligibility, E-Verify is clearly not new to human-resources professionals. Many employers have been relying on this virtual quick-check system for years.
Enter the Legal Workforce Act
In September, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885, previously known as H.R. 2164), which would, among other things, require all employers nationwide to use an “employment eligibility verification system (EEVS) patterned after the E-Verify system.”4 The bill would also get rid of the current I-9 system.
The Legal Workforce Act would not only eliminate conflicts that exist in employment-verification laws from state to state by setting a single standard to be complied with, but it would also prevent employers from being liable if they’d used the E-Verify system to determine that the workers in question were eligible for employment.
According to a summary of the bill by the National Immigration Law Center, agricultural employers could “count seasonal workers hired in previous seasons as current employees who need not be verified.”5
Has the bill generated any volatility? You bet. Keith Johnson went into more detail in his “Washington Wire” blog for The Wall Street Journal.6
At this point, as Johnson wrote, the Legal Workforce Act “is still just a bill, a poor lonely bill, and any similar proposal faces a real uphill battle in the Senate.”
How about you? As a business owner, what do you think about the idea of a mandatory E-verification system? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
For more information, visit:
1. “Punishment for Hiring Undocumented Workers OK”
2. “Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Immigration Law”
4. “H.R. 2885: Legal Workforce Act”
5. National Immigration Law Center: “Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885), Summary of Its Main Provisions”
6. “Illegal Immigration, Jobs Back in Spotlight at E-Verify Hearing”