In this first in a series of every-other-Friday columns on front-office issues, the president of the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association warns that broadcasters could be liable for outside contractors who violate immigration laws.
With multimillion-dollar fines being levied against companies running afoul of immigration laws, do media companies face any risks? The answer is an unequivocal yes, based upon the discussion during a recent teleconference hosted by the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association.
Most HR departments are aware of the federal requirements to maintain immigration documentation for everyone on their payroll who has been hired since Nov. 6, 1986. But who’s checking up on the employees of companies that we contract for custodial services, landscaping, IT support or other necessary work?
With fines as high as $11 million, companies like Wal-Mart have learned the hard way that we are just as liable for the employment eligibility of our contractors’ employees as we are for our own employees. Furthermore, the civil penalties don’t result solely from prosecution by federal agencies. Competitors can use the laws to cite unfair market advantage and seek additional penalties.
So what can we do to ensure compliance and minimize financial risk? Here are some tips from BCFM Distance Learning Seminar presenters Steven Golsch, principal at HR Momentum and co-chair of BCFM’s HR Committee, and Howard Hobbs, an attorney with Seyfarth, Shaw LLP, who specializes in employment law for the industry:
- Know what’s expected of you. The new laws don’t tolerate turning a blind eye toward the employment eligibility of your—and your contractors’—employees; you can be prosecuted on the basis of information you should have known.
- Hold your contractors accountable. Include language in service agreements with your contractors that will indemnify your company from immigration law liabilities.
- Review and update your employment policies. Have a written immigration policy that complies with the latest federal and state requirements, addresses your procedures for the I-9 forms and related employment eligibility documentation and that considers fraudulent records as grounds for dismissal.
- Be consistent. Treat all employees according to your stated policy so that your attention to immigration requirements doesn’t violate other employments laws, such as protected class requirements.
- Keep good records. Maintain separate files or a binder containing your employees’ immigration documentation and keep it current with retention requirements (up to three years after termination of employment).
- Conduct an internal audit. Workforce compliance investigations are on the increase.
The best way to experience a clean audit is by ensuring your compliance beforehand. Political candidates aren’t the only ones talking about cracking down on illegal immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security has called for an increase in workplace audits as part of uncovering fraudulent Social Security numbers. Our compliance with these laws not only helps to ensure homeland security, it will also give us greater financial security.
Mary Collins in the president of the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association, a professional society for financial, MIS and HR executives in the electronic media. She can be contacted at [email protected] or 847-716-7000.