How to Make Sure Your Employees Are Legal
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently began cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants, enforcing steep penalties. During its 2011 fiscal year, the ICE audited the hiring records of nearly 2,500 businesses to verify workers’ status. Businesses that employ unauthorized workers may be fined and blacklisted from receiving government contracts, and owners may be subject to civil and criminal charges.
How do you make sure that your employees are legally allowed to work in the U.S.? Here are a few suggestions:
- Ask potential hires. There are various questions that you shouldn't ask during a job interview, but it’s perfectly acceptable to question whether an applicant has the legal right to work in the U.S. — and whether he or she can provide evidence to that effect.
- Collect I-9 forms and other documentation. Require job applicants to submit an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form [PDF], which includes their name, date of birth, and Social Security number. It’s also important to request the supplementary evidence listed on the form, such as a state driver’s license, a U.S. passport or permanent resident (green) card, or a foreign passport with an I-551 stamp.
- Inspect the documents. The Center for Immigration Studies found that some 75 percent of illegal immigrants have fake Social Security cards. Make sure that the paperwork you receive is legit. Examine all of the documents provided by job applicants for discrepancies or potential problems, such as a photo that looks nothing like the applicant or a birthdate that seems off by many years.
- Verify the information. You may trust that your employees’ documentation is genuine, but it never hurts to get an expert second opinion — especially if it will save you from facing significant penalties if you’re wrong. The federal online verification program E-Verify, which is mandated in 14 states, can identify fraudulent documents with very little margin of error. Even if the system isn’t required in your state, it’s worth using to avoid any legal issues. If you discover that a potential or new employee has a fraudulent identity, you're under no legal obligation to report him or her to the INS, but you'll be well within your rights to withdraw your job offer.
Kathryn Hawkins is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.