Employer Defense In a Complaint of Documentary Abuse

The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) has direct purview over three types of cases stemming from the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In this case—Salim Hajiani vs. ESHA USA, Inc. and Sameer Ramjee—Hajiani, the complainant, alleged that the respondent engaged in two of the three areas of jurisdiction over which OCAHO resides: immigration-related unfair employment practices and immigration-related fraud, which are both in violation of the INA.

Hajiani registered a complaint against ESHA USA and Ramjee, accusing the respondents of document abuse, firing Hajiani due to his citizenship status, and taking revenge on him because of a religious discrimination complaint he filed against a former employer. Salim Hajiani is a lawful permanent resident of the US.

Hajiani was hired on October 10, 2011 at Sameer Ramjee’s gas station and convenience store, ESHA, which is in Philadelphia, Tennessee. Hajiani worked at the store until January 10, 2012, when he was fired. On June 26, 2012, he filed a complaint with OSC, to which OSC responded that the complaint didn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Hajiani then filed a charge with OCAHO in February 8, 2013.

Hajiani’s complaint against his employer was a detailed litany of purported incidents of document abuse and job complaints, such as long hours, no overtime pay, and double shifts. He also specified that one of the reasons he was fired was because Ramjee preferred to employ undocumented workers so that he wouldn’t have to pay them overtime or give them benefits.

Hajiani made various allegations against other employees that were not under the scope of OCAHO’s jurisdiction—complaints of undocumented workers also do not fall under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Such instances include cash register shortages, sexual harassment, allegations of tax fraud, selling tobacco to minors, and that he wasn’t hired for store’s first shift because only US citizens were allowed to work that shift. Hajiani also noted in his complaint that his claim was filed timely.

However, his claim of document abuse was not filed in a timely manner. Hajiani alleged that the document abuse occurred in October 2011, but didn’t file the charge with OSC until June 26, 2012. The IRCA strictly says, “no complaint may be filed respecting any unfair immigration-related practice occurring more than 180 days prior ot the filing of a charge with OSC.” Hajiani’s complaint would only have been valid for events after December 29, 2011.

None of Hajiani’s claims—his filed complaint of religious discrimination with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC), nor his complaints about the terms and conditions of his job—come under the purview of OCAHO, or are protected by IRCA. OCAHO only covers hiring, recruitment, and discharge.

Moreover, Hajiani never submitted evidence that any discrimination occurred. If Sameer Ramjee had been prejudiced against Hajiani, then Ramjee would never have employed Hajiani. Hajiani provided too many explanations of why he was fired, allowing OCAHO to conclude that Hajiani did not divulge his own behaviors that caused Ramjee to fire him.

OCAHO dismissed Hajiani’s complaint against his employer.

See you in my next blog.
Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Employment Practices that Could Lead to Immigration Discrimination, Pt. 2

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC)‘s job is to enforce the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which disallows employment-related anti-discrimination based on immigration and citizenship status, and nationality. I previously wrote about OSC’s responses to some employers’ questions on unfair employment practices, such as an employee presenting either invalid or fraudulent documents. OSC also answers immigration-related questions posed by law firms’, pertaining to law firm clients.

If, for example, a general contractor, is hiring out to a subcontractor, and then requires the subcontractor’s employees to again produce original documents — such as a passport or driver’s license — that were already presented during the hiring process and upon completion of a Form I-9 by the subcontractor, then a host of problems can present themselves:

  1. The original documents have expired and the employee has obtained a new version of those documents;
  2. The employee’s immigration status has changed, and thus has different documents to prove work authorization; and
  3. The original documents have been stolen or lost.

This could all amount to a claim by the employees that the general contractor was discriminating against them due to their citizenship or immigration status. Employees could also maintain that they are discriminated against in this case: An employer, who is an E-Verify user, hires a private vendor to disseminate paychecks, also giving the vendor access to Forms I-9. The vendor is authorized to examine the Forms I-9 in order to confirm the identities of employees, who the employer wants to pay.

What could easily happen is that, because the vendor didn’t see the employees’ original documents, he/she inquires about the adequacy of the documents that were initially presented to the employer for I-9 purposes. If the employer feels persuaded to ask his/her employees for further documentation, such a request might be perceived as document abuse, which violates the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. OSC found that the INA was not applicable in either circumstance.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Planning For the New Year: Form I-9 and E-Verify

With the new year approaching, employers can make some changes and improvements to processing and maintaining Form I-9s. There are Form I-9 best practices that employers should follow to avoid being fined by ICE in an audit. The following are methods to ensure that you, as an employer, are complying with Form I-9 guidelines that have been implemented by USCIS and enforced by ICE. Please also see my Form I-9 series.
  1. Train your team in-house on how to complete I-9 forms and use E-verify successfully.
  2. Don’t be creative while completing forms. If, for instance, the HR specialist forgot to date the form, or the employee did not fill in Section 1 fully — don’t attempt to back-date the form and ask to the employee to complete Section 1. There is always someone who knows the situation and is watching. You could be threatened with punishment, or other employees could rat you out.
  3. The days of the wild, wild west are gone. Today requires a culture of compliance with the rules and laws. It is too expensive for employers and companies to do otherwise.
  4. Hire outside counsel to conduct a year-end audit of all the new forms created since the beginning of the year. At a recent immigration conference, I heard that more than 85% of I-9 forms are filled incorrectly, which means that self-audit is probably not a good idea. Having another employee conduct an audit can be a tricky situation because he/she may not want to point out a superior’s mistakes. The best way is to engage outside counsel to perform the audit; this audit can be part of a wage and hour audit.
  5. Brainstorm about your on-boarding policies and your “exit” interviews. Review policies for document examination; and recording and re-verification of documents for various visa-based and non-visa-based employees. Aim for consistent employee procedures — this means creating a handbook for procedures. Ensure your employees review the handbook before they attempt to examine and record documents on the I-9.
  6. Beware of audits by other federal agencies — they share information and are looking to collect fines. A wage and hour audit can turn into an I-9 and E-verify audit nightmare.
  7. Audits take time and are an unproductive task: they cost company money and employee time, and lead to lost profits. Take the time to understand the I-9 process.
  8. Audits ruin company reputations — names of companies that are audited are made public on federal websites. ICE, OSC and DOL publish announcements of audits.   Sushi Zushi, a San Antonio restaurant, lost workers and shut down after an announcement of an ICE audit. Employees left in droves; without employees, the restaurant had to shut down 8 locations.
  9. The new I-9 will create new challenges. Allocate a budget for training and compliance.
  10. Reduce liability by purging old I-9s.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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OSC Document Abuse Settlements

The Errors that Employers Commit

Some hiring mistakes end up costing employers a lot of money and time, and loss of reputation. This past October, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) arrived at an agreement with the New Jersey-based home healthcare provider, Advantage Home Care, LLC, which was charged for violating the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Advantage Home Care was asking new hires, who were lawful permanent residents, to present additional and different documents during the Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process.

The claim was brought to OSC by an individual who applied for a job. When the individual applied to Advantage Home Care, the company ran a criminal background check and wrongly determined that the individual was using an invalid Social Security number (SSN). The individual went to the Social Security Administration, which concluded that the SSN was valid; however, Advantage Home Care would not employ the applicant. Upon further investigation, OSC found that Advantage Home Care required lawful permanent residents to provide more documents to validate work authorization than US citizens. The INA prohibits such discrimination.

In early October, similar charges were brought upon Las Vegas-based Tuscany Hotel and Casino, LLC. The company was also found to be using discriminatory practices during the employment eligibility verification and re-verification processes.

A complaint was filed with OSC in May 2012, asserting that Tuscany was asking non-citizen job applicants to provide additional or different documents during the work authorization process; US Citizen applicants were not asked to present more documents. Once hired, and in order to remain employed, the company then asked non-citizen employees to provide further document requests during the re-verification process. Moreover, non-citizen employees were subject to severe reviews, which US citizen employees didn’t have to endure.

Expensive Mistakes for Employers

Per OSC’s agreement with Advantage Home Care, the company will pay $1,633 to the individual and $46,575 in civil penalties to the US. Advantage Home Care must also pay back pay to previous job applicants who suffered financially from the company’s policy. Additionally, the company’s human resources staff will be trained in employers’ responsibilities and best practices to prevent discrimination during the employment eligibility verification process. In order to ensure compliance, Advantage Home Care’s staff will also be monitored by OSC for three years.

Under the agreement, Tuscany will pay $49,000 in civil penalties to the US and make payments to the complainant. Tuscany will administer new employment eligibility verification policies and practices that will eradicate any employment-based discrimination. Additionally, the company will train its staff on how best to avoid discrimination in the verification process, and will be monitored for compliance.

Lessons Learnt

Employers must train HR personnel on the proper documentation methods for ‘onboarding’ employees. In addition to training, written guidance or manuals for proper intake are necessary to avoid financial penalties, and work stoppage due to worksite audit. Losses may occur because workers are redirected to answering the government, providing requested documents and undergoing mandatory training as part of the worksite enforcement action. An employer’s reputation can suffer because the audit and fines are reported on government and public websites, and news media. Employers can use an immigration attorney to prevent these costly mistakes.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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Employment Practices that Could Lead to Immigration Discrimination

In order to help employers, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sometimes answers immigration-related questions about unfair employment practices, such as an employee presenting either invalid or fraudulent documents.

When an employee provides fraudulent documents, an employer is allowed to request the employee to present a different document. However, the employer’s concern may be that the employee could be committing a felony; and that if the employer asks for more documentation, the employee might commit an additional felony.

The employer needs to remember that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) disallows four types of unlawful conduct. The employer is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of:

1. citizenship or immigration status discrimination;
2. national origin discrimination
3. unfair documentary practices during the employment eligibility verification (Form 1-9) process (“document abuse”); and
4 retaliation for filing a charge or asserting rights under the anti-discrimination provision.

(source)

An employer might be in violation of USCIS policy 8 U.S.C. § 1324a, which makes employment of unauthorized aliens unlawful if the employer is aware that a document is fraudulent but accepts it. If an employer rejects a document that seems to be invalid, then the employer is allowed to ask the employee to present a different document from the Lists of Acceptable Documents from Form I-9. In order to steer clear of violating anti-discrimination laws, employers should examine documents equally for all employees.

Company Policy

Another issue pertains to whether a company policy can fire anyone that presents fraudulent documents, and regard such individuals as unqualified for rehire. It is illegal for an employer to ‘knowingly’ hire an individual who is not authorized to work in the US. The statue 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(a)(1) states, “Employers determined to have knowingly hired or continued to employ unauthorized workers…will be required to cease the unlawful activity, may be fined, and in certain situations may be criminally prosecuted.” If an employee’s document is genuine but the employer deems it to be fraudulent, then the employee can bring charges under the anti-discrimination provision, or INA. During such a case, OSC’s investigation would concentrate on the employer’s objective.

Sometimes an employer can have a company policy of regarding individuals who provide invalid documents as unqualified for rehire. An employee can file charges under the anti-discrimination policy if the employer disallows a work-authorized employee from employment, based on the individual’s previously undocumented status. This sort of “dishonest policy” would be investigated by OSC, wherein OSC would focus on whether the policy is consistently applied, without observance of citizenship status or supposed national origin. OSC will also determine if the employee was terminated based on citizenship status discrimination. However, a consistent treatment of a “dishonesty policy” would not be a violation of the anti-discrimination provision.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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DHS Enforcement Actions — July 2012

On July 19, Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke before the House Judiciary Committee, offering important information on how US immigration law enforcement would affect employers.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Since January 2009, ICE has audited 8,079 employers who are suspected of “knowingly hiring” workers who do not have authorization to work in the US. The federal government has also debarred 726 companies and individuals from federal contracts; imposing and collecting more than $87.9 million in fines and sanctions against companies and their officers.

Sec. Napolitano said ICE will eliminate high-profile raids on worksites because such raids do little to improve public safety. The government now feels that deportation of criminal aliens and unauthorized workers is having little affect on employers’ willingness to hire these individuals. Instead, the government will renew and focus its efforts on Form I-9 inspections; civil fines; debarment; and employer education and compliance with current law.

USCIS, ICE and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) have greatly increased their engagement with employers and the public through national and local stake holder meetings, webinars and newsletters. Self-check through E-Verify is also encouraged for individual employees. There are now 385,000 companies participating in E-Verify with more than 1.1 million hiring sites. E-Verify is also developing a robust customer service hotline; and increasing outreach staff to promote the E-Verify’s benefits, and educate employers and employees about rights and responsibilities.

Federal agencies receive information to prosecute employers through local police enforcement; traffic stops; criminal prosecutions and informers; and through employee complaints to ICE hotlines and OSC online complaint forms.

The Obama Administration is refocusing efforts on worksite compliance and arrests of unauthorized and criminal aliens, and deporting these aliens at great cost to their countries of origin.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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Civil rights under immigration–is there such a thing?

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) introduced employer sanctions for ‘knowingly’ hiring undocumented workers. IRCA also initiated the Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process, and established the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to administer anti-discrimination provisions. Since the advent of OSC, immigrants and “authorized” workers have had to regularly prove their work status.

Given this legal backdrop, the question for employers is whether it is still possible to discriminate against job seekers. In other words, is preferential hiring based on citizenship status legal? It is only legal if the individual is not work-authorized; if it is required by law, regulation, executive order or government contract; or if the individual requires sponsorship.

On a rainy day, a farmer’s lettuce harvest was less abundant than usual. The farmer, Harry, needed fewer farm workers than last season. He had to make a decision between keeping Hector or Jose. He decided to keep Hector because he was a legal permanent resident, and decided against Jose because he was an asylee with a temporary work permit. Did Harry commit citizenship status discrimination?

Yes, Harry committed citizenship status discrimination because the asylee is a “protected person” under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). A protected individual is a US citizen, US national, permanent resident, temporary resident, refugee or asylee. Harry could not fire Jose based on the fact that he was an asylee with a temporary work permit.

OSC defines national origin discrimination as treating employees differently based on country of origin and/or ancestry, accent, or appearing to be from a certain country. So if Harry (employer) had at least 6 employees under Missouri law, or 4-14 employees under federal law, he could not discriminate against an applicant based on the fact that he looked foreign.

What are some examples of national origin discrimination? Preferring people from a certain country; only hiring “native English speakers”; and not hiring someone with an accent.

CEO Jane had heard of the penalties for hiring unauthorized workers. Wanting to keep her company intact, she issued an order telling HR not to hire anyone who looked like they had crossed the border illegally. Did she commit national origin discrimination? Yes, she did. All hirees are required to be verified the same way regardless of whether they are immigrants or members of a foreign community.

Section 1 of Form I-9 needs to be completed after the employee takes the job, and by the first paid work day. Aliens who are authorized to work are refugees and asylees, who work with no expiry date. These employees can write N/A if he/she has no expiry date. Employees are not obligated to present documents confirming status.

Section 2 of Form I-9 needs to be completed within 3 business days of the first paid day. Employees must submit documents from List A or List B + C.

Some common problems often arise when filling out Section 2. Employers frequently ask non-US citizen workers to provide List A documents but do not ask the same of US citizen workers, while allowing US citizen workers to submit any document they choose. Employers also request non-US citizen workers to present documents from Lists A, B and C, which is against I-9 regulations. The Handbook for Employers and USCIS‘s I-9 website commonly go unreviewed by employers. Because of this, employers often don’t accept certain documents, such as receipts, from non-US citizen workers.

Employers do not need to update or reverify US citizens, permanent resident cards holders (I-551), and List B documents.

Work-authorized individuals are protected from discrimination, while undocumented individuals are not. A few possible outcomes exist if an employer faces discrimination charges by OSC. Charges can be dismissed if OSC cannot find substantial cause; proof that the employer engaged in discrimination; or if OSC has no jurisdiction. If OSC decides that the employer is at fault, then OSC attempts to arrange a settlement; otherwise it will prosecute. If the settlement is rejected, then OSC reserves the right to file a complaint against the employer. The employee may also file his or her own complaint against the employer.

Part of the settlement that OSC may enter into with the employer could include requiring the employer to rehire the individual(s); reimbursement of back pay; providing injunctive relief to the complainant; requiring the employee to provide training to HR personnel; requiring monitoring of these activities; and reporting back to OSC about compliance with the steps required by settlement. The settlement could also mandate civil penalties.

Civil Penalties for citizenship status discrimination, national origin discrimination and retaliation can be high. Penalties for first-time offenders range from $375-$3,200; second-time offenders: $3,200-$6,500, and third-time offenders: $4,300-$16,000. Penalties for document abuse range from $110-$1,100.

A TNC, or a tentative non-confirmation is when there is a tentative non-match between the applicant’s name and Social Security Number (SSN). If a TNC is issued, the employee should be allowed to contact the federal agency and remedy the situation. An employer has eight federal days to contact Social Security, and Social Security can continue the matter for 120 days. In the meantime, the employer cannot terminate; suspend; delay the employee’s job; persuade the employee to quit; decrease the employee’s hours; deny pay; asking for further documentation; or delay employing the applicant. But if the TNC becomes a “final non-confirmation”, then the employer is within rights to fire the employee.

E-Verify cannot be used as an applicant self-check or prescreening by the employer.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA

Immigration Attorney

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.

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