Thursday, February 24, 2011

ICE turning up the heat

Last week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") announced a new initiative targeting over 1000 employers in all 50 states.  This initiative will include site visits for document inspections.  According to ICE, "the inspections will touch on employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation — no one industry is being targeted nor is any one industry immune from scrutiny".  Essentially, this means that ICE is stepping up its efforts to audit employers.  Any company is potentially subject to being audited. 

Over the past few years there has been a shift from seeking to punish undocumented workers to the pursuit of employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers or who fail to comply with immigration laws.  This trend began with employer audits in July 2009, when ICE announced more than 650 firms were being investigated. Another 1,000 notices were issued in November 2009, with 200 more in March and an additional 500 notices of inspection in September 2010.

A concern for employers should be ensuring the form I-9 is properly completed each time it hires a new worker.  The I-9 form is used to verify that a worker is authorized to work in the U.S. and is to be completed within three days of initial hire.

If an employer fails to properly complete an I-9 or does not retain I-9s for all employees, it can be subject to ICE enforcement. Civil fines for violations range from $100 to $1,100 for each violation, and fines for substantive violations - employing an unauthorized worker - range from $375 to $16,000.

In line with the previous blog posting, conducting a self-audit to identity and correct any violations is the best way to avert violations.  If your company is contacted by ICE, you should contact counsel immediately.

Monday, February 21, 2011

No surprise: EEOC charges way up

The EEOC reported last month that the number of discrimination charges was at record levels. The report was not a surprise given the high unemployment rate, continued company layoffs and general economic climate.

A greater number of EEOC charges also means that it is likely that a greater number of EEO lawsuits will be filed in the courts. Now more than ever, it is imperative for employers to be cognizant of the potentail for cases of this sort being filed against them, to understand the nuances involved in the EEOC’s handling and prosecution of such cases, and to be prepared to timely challenge any attempts by the EEOC to overreach.
Our firm is recommending that employers engage in proactive self-audits, in order to seek out and eliminate vulnerability. We do not want our clients to be among the list of targeted businesses, nor do we want our clients to be found in violation of any laws, paying fines, being sued, etc. We engage in an interactive interview process, examine records and review policies and procedures to ensure that a company is compliant with the various employment laws.

A self-audit can mitigate potential penalties and fines that a government investigator might uncover. In addition, the audit process can lead to identifying weak areas and problems with record keeping and certain employment practices. In turn, the audit process can lead to the development of "best practices" and can function as a long-term cost savings, as a single lawsuit can cost over $100,000 to defend.
If your company hasn't reviewed policies and procedures in some time or hasn't had an audit, now is a good time to do so.