Have you heard of E-Verify and wondered what it is and whether it is for your business? E-Verify is the free, Web-based program that allows employers to verify the employment eligibility of their new hires and certain other workers electronically. Operated as a partnership between Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA), the program is administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency within DHS that is responsible for adjudicating immigration benefits and determining eligibility for status. The program was established to reduce unauthorized employment, reduce employment verification-related discrimination, reduce the burdens on employers, and protect employers from civil and criminal penalties related to claims of hiring unauthorized workers. While the program is mostly voluntary, some employers are required to use the program to ensure their employees are work authorized. Those required to use E-Verify include most federal contractors and subcontractors who enter into or continue contracts with federal executive departments and agencies for all new hires and/or all persons performing services for certain federal contracts. In addition, some states require E-verify for their contractors, and Arizona requires it for all of its employers. There is little doubt that E-Verify will become mandatory for all employers as part of any comprehensive or even piecemeal immigration reform that is enacted in the future. In the meantime, however, employers considering registering for the program now should understand the requirements that attach to their participation and some of their potential liabilities:
Employers who use E-verify have a number of obligations that commence after an employer registers and signs an electronic E-Verify Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which explains the terms and conditions. Under the MOU, the employer agrees to: (1) use E-verify only after new hires have accepted employment offers and completed their Form I-9s, Employment Eligibility Verification; (2) use E-Verify within three days of their new hire’s actual start date; (3) use E-Verify only for new hires, not existing workers, unless otherwise required; (4) use the data obtained on Form I-9 to enter information into the E-Verify system; (5) display federal notices for E-Verify at their workplace; and (6) accept only “List B” identification documents with photographs as part of I-9 procedures. Employers who use E-Verify also agree to comply with other responsibilities related to record-keeping and response procedures when information provided by the new hire does not match federal records. This includes reviewing “tentative nonconfirmation” (TNC) responses issued by SSA with their employee and reporting back to SSA/DHS with details on resolving the TNC. Participating employers also agree to permit DHS or SSA to make periodic visits to review its E-Verify records and share information with other government agencies. During those periodic visits, DHS or SSA officials are permitted to interview employees directly. Employers who participate in E-Verify can terminate the program but only after giving 30 days notice.
In early December, E-Verify released new and revised MOUs that bind existing users and new users to changes made to the program. Most of these changes are not substantive but instead appear to reflect improved language and organization, as well as some enhanced privacy protections and instructions for reporting privacy and security breaches. While existing users do not need to execute new MOUs, they are bound by these changes. The effective date for existing users is January 8, 2014. For new users, the effective date of the revised MOUs is December 8, 2013.
A new feature of E-Verify is that the system now can lock Social Security numbers (SSNs) that appear to have been used fraudulently, like a credit card company can lock a credit card that appears to have been stolen. If an employee attempts to use a locked SSN, a TNC will be generated.
As mentioned above, participating employers agree to governmental information sharing. Three years ago, DHS formalized such information sharing and entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the division in DOJ that prosecutes claims of discriminatory hiring practices. Under the agreement, DHS shares with OSC citizenship status and documentation data, which initially was to be used to identify trends that may indicate an employer’s discriminatory practices. However, once the DHS/OSC information sharing program was up and running, OSC began using this data to initiate investigations of employer discrimination, even in the absence of employee complaints. And, such investigations are on the rise.
With more and more employers enrolling in E-Verify — either because they want greater confidence in the validity of the documents presented by their employees and less risk of fines for making mistakes, or because they are now required to do so — it has become increasingly important for employers to understand all aspects of the program and ensure that their staff are well versed and trained in the program’s requirements. For starters, employers who use E-Verify are strongly encouraged to review and familiarize themselves with the new or revised MOU that applies to them. Employers should also adopt best practices, which include preparing a policy-and-procedure manual for I-9 and E-Verify compliance; providing annual and mandatory training for all individuals who complete the company’s I-9s; and periodically auditing and reviewing the company’s processes to ensure that they are being followed properly.