Small Businesses Unprepared for New Hiring Rules

Published December 5, 2011

By Ellen Meder | WSPA

South Carolina’s new immigration law makes it mandatory for all businesses touse the E-Verify program when hiring, starting Jan. 1, but many of the state’ssmall businesses don’t know the change is coming.

E-Verify is an online program that allows employers to input information fromrequired I-9 hiring forms and find out a new employee’s legal work status. SouthCarolina government jobs, including positions at public universities, have beenscreened with E-Verify since 2009, as have private jobs at companies with morethan 100 employees.

The law, signed by Gov. Nikki Haley at the end of June, extends therequirement to all businesses.

But experts say the smaller the business, the less likely they know about thechange, and some, like SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce President FrankKnapp, say the more difficult it will be for them to use the program, since itrequires broadband Internet access.

“A lot of businesses won’t be able to do it in their business. That meansthey would have to go find a computer with broadband service in their rural areaand hopefully get there at a time somebody knows how to use E-Verify and can doit for them. It’s just going to be a mess,” Knapp said.

He said it will make things especially difficult for farmers who often aren’tnear a computer when hiring workers, and very small rural businesses with fewerthan four employees.

But Jim Knight, the administrator of immigrant worker compliance at theDepartment of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which is charged with enforcingthe law, says the department knew Internet access isn’t a given for allbusinesses.

The agency trained librarians and Department of Employment and Workforceworkers from across the state so employers can get guidance and a computeraccess at any local library or workforce office. Knight said signing up can take30 minutes to an hour 15 minutes depending on how quickly a person can read theE-Verify manual and that those who use it have told him it’s a fairly simpleprocess even if they complained about the new regulation at first.

But Knapp said helping small businesses is easier said than done.

“If they don’t have a computer their going to have to find one, so thatinterrupts their daily life. I can see some small businesses in rural areasactually shutting down for a while during the day while the owner travels tosome state agency in that county and pleads with that state employee to ‘let meuse your computer and do you know how to use E-Verify?’,” Knapp said

However, Knight said it will actually take away a business’s liability ofhiring an illegal alien.

“In the past if they had a drivers license and a permanent resident card youhad to check those very closely. There are plenty of fraudulent documents outthere and this takes the burden to know a lot of forms and be a document expertoff the employer,” Knight said.

LLR has contacted and held seminars for trade groups, chambers of commerceand Rotary clubs across the state and sent a direct mailing in September to allof the more than 95,000 businesses in the state. He said he and his staff willkeep trying to make contact with businesses as it begins enforcing the law, butadmitted that small businesses are often the last to know.

“Based on 30 years in department of labor, when a law takes effect, therewill be employers who are right on top of it, particularly large and middlesized employers because they’re plugged in and have networks like tradeassociations and get information on changes and how to comply,” Knight said.“Its typically the smallest that aren’t plugged in or reading the newspapers,just trying to get by, and they’re the ones who typically are caught off guardand I’m sure we’ll see some of that as we start enforcing the new law.”

They’re in the process of creating an audit plan and will send auditnotifications and conduct in-person audits at randomly selected businesses, butwill do more audits in sectors with a history of hiring illegal aliens.

Knight said the audit plan is in the works and couldn’t say how many LLRemployees will work on the audits, or how many will be conducted, but that intwo years of the last immigration hiring law, which ran from the start of 2009to May 31 of this year, about 6,000 audits were conducted across the state.

From the start of the year through June businesses that aren’t complying withthe new rule get a grace period, and will be given a warning and allowed to signup for E-Verify within 3 days. But starting July 1, if LRR finds a business hashired people in 2012 and not used E-Verify the will go on probation for a yearand have to hire quarterly hiring reports. If they are caught illegally hiringwithin 3 years their business license can be suspended for 10 to 30 days, withpossible fines.

That’s when Knapp said hard-working small business owners will feel betrayedby a law he says isn’t necessary.

“I think that small business owner is going to feel pretty well ticked offthat he has the state of South Carolina telling him how he’s supposed to employsomebody, when we want to create jobs,” Knapp said.

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