Instances in which companies choose not to comply with the federal regulations governing employment eligibility verification and Form I-9 procedures are always problematic for all involved in the business - including those who don't support such practices but still abide by them. Situations in which this kind of noncompliance occurs within a company and can be reasonably established as the result of discrimination against a given demographic group, however, are viewed as especially odious and could lead to serious public relations problems, which can eventually impede on the business's monetary bottom line.
The recent case of Carrillo Farm Labor, LLC, a farm based out of Deming, New Mexico, and focused solely on harvesting onions, exemplifies the probable adverse consequences that can befall companies that break compliance guidelines for prejudiced reasons. While the financial penalty and other civil sanctions levied against this business may appear small - amounting to just under $50,000 altogether - it's ultimately bad optics, the effects of which don't easily disappear, that may cause the biggest problems.
Farm engaged in exclusionary hiring
According to an official statement on the case by the Department of Justice, Carrillo Farm caught the attention of authorities due to complaints filed by U.S. citizens who had attempted to find employment in the onion fields and were rejected. This rebuffing came not due to a lack of qualifications, but because the farm wished to build its workforce almost entirely on foreign residents who had received temporary work authorization through the Department of Labor's H-2A visa program. The farm's actions were a departure from many of the more recent examples of discrimination related to hiring and employee verification processes - more often than not such cases involve xenophobic HR staff favoring American applicants over foreign lawful permanent residents - but no less discriminatory. In fact, the new presidential administration has announced that hiring practices preventing American workers from finding employment are to be a major priority of the DOJ and the Labor Department.
Two of these grievances incited the DOJ to initiate an investigation of Carrillo Farm in 2016 through its Immigration and Employee Rights Section, though it is not clear exactly how long the business had been practicing these discriminatory methods. This resulted in the department filing a civil federal suit against the farm on behalf of the two citizens who were refused work. Additionally, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing low-income, disenfranchised workers with legal aid, ended up filing its own suit on behalf of a number of other workers who had experienced the same discrimination.
Results of the settlement
Rather than enduring the expenses and additional public scrutiny of a full-on trial, Carrillo Farm opted for a settlement. DOJ lawyers accepted the plea, and the two sides came to an agreement in late May 2017. Per the final terms of the settlement, Carrillo would pay a total of $5,000 in civil federal penalties, in two installments of $2,500 each, and had to issue an additional $44,000 to the workers represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid - an amount approximately equal to what they might have made in wages if hired. Finally, Carrillo Farm agreed that it would submit itself to close federal monitoring on a regular basis, and to have its employees take classes on the Immigration and Nationality Act, particularly that law's anti-discrimination provisions.
It should be stressed that the same rules are enforced whether a business engages in willful discrimination that leads to employee verification compliance failures or simply makes innocent mistakes that end up leading to such violations. Utilizing E-Verify and Form I-9 software that make these processes much simpler can provide companies and their HR staff a valuable advantage - one that they cannot afford to ignore or take for granted.
Discover how Form I-9 solutions offered by I-9 Advantage can help organizations like yours to ensure compliance with every step of the Form I-9 and E-Verify process, by contacting us here or call: 800.724.8546 to speak with a specialist.