It is no secret that California is a primary destination for aliens of both the documented and undocumented varieties. Each year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, primarily Mexicans, flock to California’s major cities for work opportunities. Sacramento is no exception to this trend.
In 1986, Congress passed what is commonly known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Through this legislation, the federal government sets regulations as to the manner in which aliens may immigrate legally. The same legislation sets out penalties for non-compliance, including penalties for the illegal employment of undocumented workers. Given the rate of immigration and the federal guidelines in place, California business owners must be extra vigilant in making sure their employees are legally able to work. Consequently, California business lawyers must be just as vigilant in ensuring compliance by their client businesses.
Penalties for non-compliance can be quite harsh, especially if a business exhibits a wanton disregard for maintaining a fully documented labor force. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, the civil penalties for employing undocumented workers can range from $275 to $16,000 per undocumented worker. Those business owners who engage in a pattern of illegal hiring behavior may also be subject to criminal fines up to $3,000 per violation and/or the possibility of six months imprisonment. Suffice to say that any Sacramento business law firm will advise a business owner that it does not pay to gamble against the federal government for the prospect of cheap labor.
However, the same law firm will also advise you that compliance with these regulations is not as simple as asking your employees to fill out a questionnaire. As a small business owner, you must maintain an I-9 form for each and every employee you retain, unless the employee is an independent contractor or a “casual worker.” Be aware that “casual worker” does not equate to part time laborer. A casual worker is someone like a babysitter, who is not affiliated with any business enterprise.
The purpose of the I-9 form is to help verify the worker’s identity. It contains information like the worker’s social security number, driver’s license, and other sensitive information. Although you are required by law to keep these documents, there are very stringent rules as to the record-keeping procedures. The information contained in these documents is susceptible to identity theft, so you must be judicious as to whom you entrust with access to the documents. These persons must have a genuine business need to review such documents, and must also be authorized to provide copies if a regulatory body requests them.
If you are a California small business owner and you are concerned about the immigration status of your employees, consider contacting a Sacramento business attorney for an evaluation of your employment compliance procedures. Businesses circumvent these rules all the time, and most of them are eventually caught. Most likely, your business’s profit margin cannot withstand a hefty fine or the potential imprisonment of you, the owner. Be sure you are in compliance before the wrong agency discovers that you are not.
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