Food Company to Pay $1.5 Million for Hiring Unauthorized Workers

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By Laura D. Francis

July 27 — A California-based natural food company will pay $1.5 million to avoid prosecution for employing unauthorized workers and then rehiring them following an Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit.

Mary's Gone Crackers Inc. of Gridley, Calif., was subject to an ICE audit of its I-9 employment eligibility verification forms in 2012, according to the agreement with the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of California, signed July 21.

During the audit, ICE notified the cookie and cracker company that 49 employees had “suspect documents” and likely weren't authorized to work in the U.S.

One of those employees provided corrected employment verification documents, and MGC told ICE that it had fired the other 48, the agreement said.

But one operations supervisor never was fired, and instead continued working under an assumed name, the agreement said. MGC continued to pay the worker—an unauthorized immigrant—as an independent contractor until the worker was terminated for unrelated reasons five months later.

13 Unauthorized Workers Rehired

MGC then proceeded to rehire at least 13 unauthorized workers under false names following the ICE audit, the agreement said.

At least 12 of those employees were still working for MGC when a federal search warrant was executed in January 2013, the agreement said. The company thereafter overhauled its immigration compliance policies.

Those steps included: firing the unauthorized workers and no longer using the outside counsel it worked with during the I-9 audit and afterward; enrolling in E-Verify and the Social Security Verification Service; sending a human resources manager to an ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers forum and training session; providing training to employees on I-9 compliance; establishing an anonymous tip line to report I-9 issues; retaining an HR compliance expert to assess the company's I-9 compliance program; and retaining new outside counsel.

In addition to the $1.5 million payment, MGC also agreed to establish a corporate I-9 and E-Verify compliance program and to report to the U.S. attorney's office on that program for two years.

The company additionally agreed to pay $3,000 to a woman whose son's Social Security number was used by one of the unauthorized workers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the agreement is available at http://src.bna.com/hbb.

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