A new law that aims to keep undocumented workers from getting jobs could create work for companies that help small businesses deal with government regulations.
Under the law, which the governor signed last week, cities, counties and businesses that employ 25 or more workers will have to use the federal government's E-Verify electronic system. The law will be phased in between now and July 2013. Seasonal or temporary employees are exempt from the law.
State agencies, offices and universities have used the system for the past five years. But critics of the bill, which had bipartisan support in the House and Senate, say it places an additional burden on businesses at a time when they can least afford it. Supporters, however, argue that it will help to streamline hiring processes.
All employers are now required to collect an I-9 form to verify a prospective employee's identity and work status . With E-Verify, a background check will be run electronically to match Social Security information and, potentially, IRS data.
Industries such as construction, landscaping and agriculture, which often rely on large staffs but operate on small budgets, are expected to be affected the most.
"We take every step we can to ensure our employees are legal," said Adam Jolly, director of pre-construction services at J. M. Thompson, a Raleigh construction company with 50 employees. Jolly said it's too soon to know whether the law is going to create more or less work for his company, but added, "It appears to be a good step for the construction industry and for business in general."
Small businesses that may not have their own human resources departments also are trying to figure out what the new procedures will mean for them - and how to handle the new workload.
"Some employers are resentful for being additionally deputized as border patrol agents," said Bruce Clarke, president and CEO of CAI, a nonprofit employers' association in Raleigh that represents about 1,000 companies in central North Carolina, advising them on HR and management issues. (Clarke writes an employment column for The News & Observer's Work & Money section.) The new law "puts employers on the spot to deal with a national and societal problem that they're really not suited to deal with," he said.
More regulations coupled with the reduced budgets of regulating agencies means that a lot of work is pushed down to the level of business owners themselves.
Checks and advice
For a small fee, CAI will run E-Verify background checks for employers in addition to advising them on conversations they might have with prospective employees going through the system.
Noverant also is gearing up to help its clients deal with the new system.
"I think we will have more people coming to us for assistance," said Frank Gozzo, CEO and president of the Raleigh company, which helps other businesses - anyone from small physicians offices to big pharmaceuticals - grapple with their information and any regulations imposed on them.
"This type of system helps us help our clients better," Gozzo said. Noverant will be training clients on how to use E-Verify. While Gozzo says that small businesses, especially those without their own HR departments, may find the new system harder to adjust to, once they become familiar with the system, E-Verify could help streamline companies' hiring processes.
Accuracy of findings
E-Verify's track record isn't perfect. According to Westat, an independent Maryland research company that performed an evaluation of the system for the Department of Homeland Security in 2010, approximately half of the unauthorized workers run through the system are inaccurately identified as being authorized.
When E-Verify cannot confirm an individual's work status, employers have eight days to resolve the issue. If they hire someone who turns out to be in the country illegally, they would be subject to a suit and potentially fines, Clarke says.
Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that "the legislation adequately protects N.C. employers as they start complying with the new law."
The program was begun by Congress in the late 1990s. It was voluntary and available to just a few states. In 2004, it became available to all 50 states. North Carolina now joins 16 states, including South Carolina, that have some form of E-Verify requirements.
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