Workforce: Immigrants Play Key Role In Utility Construction

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | March 2009 Vol. 64 No. 3

“Be aware that the days of administrative slap on the wrist type penalties for hiring unauthorized foreign workers are long over. ICE may administratively arrest and deport unauthorized workers whom they identify during work site enforcement actions, but company owners and managers, including human resources and higher level executives have been and continue to be targets of criminal investigations. Typical charges now include criminal violations of the Immigration Act, for knowingly hiring, employing or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens; or aiding and abetting the same; harboring illegal aliens; transporting illegal aliens; money laundering; fraud; perjury; identity theft; labor law/overtime violations; and conspiracy to commit all of the foregoing. Penalties for these offenses include substantial criminal fines, prison terms, forfeiture of company assets and profits, debarment from future contracts and very destructive publicity.”

Liability includes contract labor

“Much of construction is performed by contractors and subcontractors. Be aware that using contractors and contract workers does not immunize a company from liability for employing unauthorized workers. The Immigration Act prohibits either the direct employment of unauthorized aliens, or doing so through contract. This was the lesson of the Wal-mart case in 2005, in which the company, while admitting no wrongdoing, agreed to pay an $11 million criminal fine based on the conduct of janitorial service companies it had contracted with. If a company hires contract workers, it is subject to the same liability for actual or constructive knowledge that the workers are unauthorized, as is applied in the case of hiring direct employees. And the penalties are the same.”

Have a robust immigration compliance policy

“It is necessary, but not in itself sufficient, for every employer to have a written policy governing compliance with U.S. (and increasingly state) immigration laws and regulations. Top management must buy into the policy, and ensure that it is implemented at every location where the company does business, not just headquarters.