Remember your first job? Mine was as a waitress in a local pizza parlor. I learned how to hand-flip pizza dough so I could work “behind the counter” and before I knew it, I was actually managing my first restaurant at the ripe old age of 17! I know we probably broke every wage and hour law that was on the books in those days and didn’t give it a second thought!
Restaurants are at great risk for Form I-9 fines and penalties. Many people are attracted to restaurant jobs, not as a profession but as a “summer job” or for “extra income” and so by the very nature of the business, restaurants are constantly recruiting, hiring and training new staff members. Add to that, the fact that the food business historically attracts unskilled, immigrant workers and you have the perfect storm for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) work-site inspections.
Could This Happen to Your Restaurant?
Many restaurant owners do not realize the great financial risk they are taking by not having employment eligibility verification policies in effect. Imagine being visited by ICE agents and given 3 days to produce every Form I-9 for every employee you currently have PLUS the I-9 forms for every person who has worked for you for the last 3 years!
That’s the kicker – restaurant owners need to think about how many employees they have hired over the last 3 years, even those people who worked 1/2 shift, threw in their apron, and never came back. Could you find that I-9 form if you were asked for it? If not, you will be fined $1,100 for every form you can’t provide to the ICE agent.
Who filled out those I-9s? Were they properly trained in employment verification? It’s not enough to just have the form – it must be filled out correctly. Simple clerical errors cost a minimum of $110 per occurrence. What if someone didn’t date the form?
What if someone didn’t fill in the business’s FULL address in Section 2? What if you didn’t keep a copy of the back-side of the Form I-9? What if someone copied ID documents for some new hires but not all? All of these very common mistakes on the employment eligibility form and they add up to HUGE fines.
Form I-9 Violations Add Up Quickly
If you think this can’t happen to you I’d encourage you to ask the burger restaurant franchisee who owns 3 stores in Colorado. He paid $32,000 in fines due to an ICE inspection. He never hired an illegal worker. He simply had paperwork mistakes like the ones previously mentioned. Ask the owner of 6 restaurants based in Arizona who was visited by ICE 2 days before Christmas and ended up with $67,000 in fines. Merry Christmas! Ask Krispy Kreme doughnuts. They were fined $40,000 for Form I-9 violations. I could go on and on. This is serious business and you are at risk. If you have hired undocumented workers, you could go to jail!
Think You’re Not a Target?
You should know that many ICE investigations are triggered by “tips” from disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, and even sometimes your competition. ICE also regularly investigates businesses that traditionally attract and hire immigrant workers. If you are a restaurant owner I-9 compliance should be part of a comprehensive risk management program. Unfortunately, most restaurants spend a lot of time managing risk associated with slips and falls, burns, theft prevention, etc. but never think about the huge risk of missing or incorrect I-9 forms.