Discrimination against employees or applicants based on national origin, as most employers know, is illegal under both federal and state law. What some may not realize is that this includes discrimination based on immigration status.
All employers need to know is that a person is legally allowed to work in the U.S. The federal government provides a list of documents that a person can present to verify this. Employers cannot require unnecessary documentation or tell them which of those documents they need to have.
One California McDonald’s franchise has learned a very expensive lesson. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that the franchisee, which operates four fast-food restaurants around San Diego, will pay $40,000 in civil penalties. It will also provide back pay to the person who filed a complaint and revise its policies and training to accurately reflect the law.
Investigation found a pattern of similar discrimination
According to the DOJ, the company refused to accept the person’s documentation showing that they were authorized to work in the U.S., even though it was sufficient and valid. The person was told they couldn’t begin working until they presented a different document that was unnecessary.
The DOJ’s investigation found that the company “routinely discriminated against non-U.S. citizens, primarily lawful permanent residents, by asking them to present specific, Department of Homeland Security-issued documents to prove their permission to work in the United States.” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who heads the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said, “Employees have the right — U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens alike — to choose which valid, acceptable documentation they wish to present to prove their permission to work.”
Most employers use the E-Verify web-based system to verify an applicant’s eligibility to work in the U.S. However, even with that, discriminatory actions can happen if managers or human resources professionals “demand more or different documents than necessary, request specific documents, or reject reasonably genuine-looking documents because of a worker’s citizenship, immigration status, or national origin,” according to the DOJ.
When someone suffers this type of discrimination, it’s helpful to know the law and your rights so you can assert them. If the employer still refuses to follow the law, it may be necessary to seek legal guidance.