While many of the regulations governing employee verification and documentation have been federal law for decades, businesses throughout the U.S., for any number of stated reasons, violate them with some regularity.
The recent case of Brickell Financial Services Motor Club, a Miami-based roadside services company also known as Road America Motor Club, serves as an intriguing object-lesson regarding noncompliance with established documentation requirements. It essentially highlights what not to do - and the resulting penalties - in such instances for company HR staffers who may find themselves frustrated with these regulations.
Company settles to avoid federal court ruling
According to a release from the Department of Justice's Office of Public Affairs, Road America Motor Club violated the terms of the Immigrant and Nationality Act due to engaging in improper work authorization practices as a matter of course when dealing with workers who were not U.S. citizens. This legislation bars businesses from using employees' national origin or citizenship status - provided they are legally authorized to live and work in America - as grounds for discrimination.
"Road America Motor Club violated the Immigrant and Nationality Act by engaging in xenophobic work authorization practices."
To avoid what could well have been a much more severe civil judgment, Road America settled with the Justice Department to the tune of a $34,200 federal penalty, as well as $1,044 to a worker who lost that amount in potential wages due to these discriminatory acts.
At Road America, xenophobia became policy
Per the terms of the INA, legal permanent resident workers in the U.S. only have to establish that they're authorized for American employment at the start of their employee onboarding process. Even if these employees' Permanent Resident Cards expire, this has no bearing on their work status.
However, it did at Road America. According to the DOJ, company leaders would ask their legal permanent resident employees to show their Permanent Resident Cards at random intervals. If the cards were no longer valid, Road America would force workers to renew them. Considering that many other records are considered acceptable documents for proving work authorization under federal law, the card requirement was spurious in and of itself. Proof that this stemmed from anti-immigrant bias emerged in the DOJ's investigation, as the agency learned U.S. citizens working for Road America were never subjected to any of these practices.
Tom Wheeler, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at Justice, spoke positively of Road America's choice to rectify its mistakes. These corrective measures, in addition to the aforementioned monetary penalties, include implementing employee and management training regarding civil rights law and employment eligibility regulations, posting notices of employees' rights and submitting to regular monitoring.
"When verifying the work authorization of employees, employers may not erect unnecessary barriers based on employees' citizenship or national origin," Wheeler said. "Employers must ensure they are aware of their legal obligations to avoid discrimination, and we applaud Road America for committing itself to do so through this settlement.
While Road America operated on prejudices that many companies don't share, it can be easier than one might think to fall into other problematic work authorization practices. As the dangers of noncompliance for any reason are clear, leveraging the right human resources software for Form I-9 compliance and following the best practices for its use will be a boon to any business.