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Restaurant Managers 101: Immigration Compliance in the Hospitality Industry

Are restaurant managers liable?

Derek Brenner, the acting director for Homeland Security Investigations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), recently stated: “This year, … you’re going to see more and more of these … large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters. It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry…. It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there. We need to make sure that employers are on notice that we are going to come out and ensure that they’re being compliant. For those that don’t, we’re going to take some very aggressive steps in terms of criminal investigations to make sure that we address them and hold them accountable.”

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States. The hospitality industry is prone to hiring foreign nationals without the proper work authorization. This industry has been a target of inspections since 2009.

Penalties have nearly doubled, from $2, 191.00 to $21,916.00 for knowingly hiring an undocumented worker. Managers in the hospitality industry can face criminal penalties found harboring, concealing, or transporting undocumented workers. This could mean 10 years in prison and/or a $250 fine.

Restaurant Managers – Job Hunting

This can put restaurant managers in a dangerous position. Being too hungry for the next job can make restaurant managers avoid the danger signs. It is the restaurant manager’s responsibility to protect their career from unscrupulous employers.

The government announced a new worksite enforcement strategy, with which all hospitality mamangers should familiarize themselves with the new procedures. It is important to understand how the procedures work and to bring up the issue in the job interview.

Managers often think that owners and CEOs are responsible for noncompliance or that electronic 1-9s cover any liability – this is false.  ICE does target small restaurants. They do return and investigate the same business twice. They are investigating all businesses. And, even though a restaurant manager is ‘only doing what they are told to’ they are still liable, and responsible both financially and criminally for noncompliance.

Some Steps Needed to Protect Restaurant Manager’s Career

  1. Work with a recruiter. They can help avoid unscrupulous employers.
  2. Make sure that the issue comes up in the job interview.
  3. Understand the company’s process and look for anything ‘fast tracked’ or careless when you are being hired.
  4. Ask the hiring manager what the company’s take is on compliance.
  5. Do not assume that a smaller restaurant, or a large franchise will not be targeted by the ICE.
  6. Ignorance is no defense. A restaurant manager who didn’t know a new hire was undocumented are still liable. The ICE’s response is that, if the restaurant manager had been following the IRCA’s employment verification system then they would have known the employee was undocumented. The employer is held liable, regardless of whether or not they knew the employee lacked the proper paperwork to work in the United States.

Do your homework. Do not wear rose colored glasses into a job interview. Stay grounded. Middle managers and supervisors need to think hard before taking any risks, even when working with employment agencies. They need to have a plan of action if the business owner is not compliant. They also need to make sure that everyone understands their position on compliance.



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