The Naples location of one leading hotel chain recently received a lesson in document abuse after reverifying an individual's employment authorization because of his immigration status.
A settlement between the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) and Hilton Worldwide was reached after one of the international hotel chain's locations in southern Florida allegedly discriminated against a foreign worker. In an attempt to reverify the asylee’s work authorization, the hotel rejected his Social Security card. However, because the employee was legally authorized to work in the U.S., the act of rejecting his Social Security card was reasonable cause to believe that Hilton committed document abuse.
Rejected Social Security card violates INA
The allegation, initially reported through the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices’ worker hotline, constituted document abuse and a violation of the unfair immigration-related employment practices provisions of 8 U.S.C. § 1324b of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Under the INA, employers are prohibited from rejecting an individual's employment documents due to the person's citizenship status or national origin. Under law, employees must be allowed to choose which documents they present to the hiring manager. Additionally, as long as the work authorization documents appear to be reasonably genuine, they must not be rejected. Doing so would constitute document abuse under the terms of the INA. When Hilton refused the asylee's Social Security card, it also violated the terms of the INA because the employee was lawfully authorized to work in the U.S., despite his foreign nationality.
Avoiding the fines that come with document abuse
By the time the Justice Department reached a settlement with the international hotel chain, the asylee was rehired by the hotel. Nevertheless, according to the settlement, Hilton was ordered to pay the individual $12,600 for lost wages, and was charged a civil penalty of $550. Additionally, to ensure compliance with the INA, the OSC will closely monitor and scrutinize Hilton’s hiring practices for up to two years.
Document abuse can be an easily occurring (and often recurring) mistake among hiring managers. Not unlike technical or substantive errors made on a paper Form I-9, the practice of document abuse can result in substantial fines. Form I-9 document abuse practices are often the source of investigations, charges, and fines issued by the OSC. These fines can include orders to provide back pay, civil penalties, and the government's requirement that hiring practices be monitored for a defined period of time.
As long as a new employee's work authorization documents appear to be reasonably genuine, hiring managers must not deny employment, irrespective of the employee’s nationality, birthplace, or citizenship. This means ensuring a careful balance between policing the documents provided, and offering employees the benefit of the doubt if there is any level of uncertainty. Doing so will improve the Form I-9 process and reduce a company’s risk of fines resulting from charges of document abuse.