Two California-based janitorial companies are being required to pay a civil penalty of $115,000 following immigration-related discrimination claims.
This month, the U.S. Department of Justice resolved an investigation into the work authorization and employment verification processes of Paragon Building Maintenance, Inc. and Pegasus Building Services Company, Inc. over claims that they discriminated against lawful permanent resident employees. In violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the DOJ investigation concluded that the companies routinely asked work-authorized immigrants to present their Permanent Resident Cards to prove their U.S. employment eligibility and work authorization.
Discriminatory request for documents
Under INA guidance, lawful permanent residents are permitted to choose which work authorization documents, aside from the Permanent Resident Card, to use when proving work authorization, since they typically have access to the same forms as U.S. citizens do. Furthermore, when those green cards expired, the DOJ's investigation found that Pegasus and Paragon made the lawful-immigrant employees re-verify their work authorization, which violated federal immigration laws.
"The employers face a combined civil penalty of $115,000."
The anti-discrimination provision of the INA says that employers are prohibited from asking employees to make unnecessary requests or demands for work documents based on the individual's national origin or citizenship. Also included in this provision is the barring of hiring, firing or recruiting someone for a fee, or using retaliation and intimidation.
"Employers may not discriminate against employees when verifying that their employees are authorized to work in the United States," explained the DOJ Civil Rights Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler. "We encourage employers everywhere to familiarize themselves with their legal obligations, as Paragon and Pegasus have committed to do by reaching this settlement."
The settlement agreement that has been reached requires the janitorial companies to pay a combined civil penalty of $115,000, as well as a maximum of $30,000 in compensation to any injured parties who may have lost out on wages due to the unlawful work authorization practices. Additionally, Pegasus and Paragon human resources departments will undergo training, submit to monitoring and reporting requirements and post information informing staff of INA anti-discrimination rights.
Preventing pricey mistakes
This recent event is just one example of the many cases of this nature the DOJ deals with on a regular basis. Under the Trump administration, employers face increased pressure to maintain compliance with employment eligibility verification and work authorization guidelines. It is imperative for U.S. companies to ensure they are following proper protocol for filing and submitting critical employment documents, such as Forms I-9. However, it is also important that, in an effort to maintain compliance, employers aren't violating the rights of employees, especially those protected under the INA anti-discrimination provision.
Furthermore, it's essential to keep in mind that even well-meaning actions can have costly consequences. The mishandling of employee eligibility and work authorization paperwork can lead to legal ramifications, hefty fines and reputation damage. To avoid running into problems such as the one exemplified above, employers are highly encouraged to provide training for all HR personnel and leverage Form I-9 and E-Verify software solutions to help with employee verification and all associated processes.