New immigration worry: ‘Mob’ charges for hiring illegals

April 5, 2011
in Employment Law

The immigration law landscape keeps changing, and employers must keep up. Even employees who are in the United States illegally can sue you for unpaid overtime. (See “Workers ‘illegal’? You still have to pay them correctly.”)

Now you also have to be aware of another risk: Clever attorneys have begun filing RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act lawsuits, alleging that some employers are essentially running “mob” operations. They’re claiming that employers are hiring undocumented workers as a way to cut labor costs and, therefore, are putting documented workers at a competitive disadvantage.

Recent case: Kyle Edwards and several other U.S. citizens sued their former employer, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchisee, claiming that the owner engaged in racketeering by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and encouraging them to remain in the country.

Edwards and his colleagues claimed management supplied the illegal immigrants with the names and Social Security numbers (SSNs) belonging to former legal employees as a way to get around federal immigration laws.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case to trial, saying that if the restaurant truly did provide SSNs for illegal immigrants, that amounted to encouraging them to illegally immigrate for work opportunities.

That could amount to a corrupt practice under RICO. (Edwards, et al., v. Prime, Inc., No. 09-11699, 11th Cir., 2010)

Final notes: Don’t think this would apply to your company? Think again if you rely on local managers to provide hiring documents. Double-check all SSNs and names against former employees’ identification to make sure the information isn’t being “recycled.”

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