NC employers shut out of E-Verify by federal shutdown

vbridges@newsobserver.comOctober 8, 2013 

Following the federal government shutdown last week, some Triangle businesses are facing a snag in their hiring process.

That’s because North Carolina requires employers with 25 or more permanent employees to use E-Verify, a federal Internet-based system, to check within three days of a hire whether a new worker is eligible to work in the United States.

The shutdown has made the site unavailable, but a notice on the E-Verify site says Form I-9, an employment eligibility verification document, still needs to be completed by all employers no later than the third business day after a hire regardless of the company’s size or location.

Neal O’Briant, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Labor, said the agency is advising businesses to follow the guidelines issued by the federal government, and assuring companies the state will not investigate any complaints until E-Verify is back up and running and additional instructions are released.

Pam Higdon, owner of two Express Employment Professionals, a staffing company with a location in Durham and Raleigh that places people in temporary and permanent positions, said she has collected the Form I-9s for about 30 workers so far and plans to enter the information into the E-Verify system when it reopens.

“That is all really the most anybody would be able to do,” she said.

A 1986 federal act requires employers to collect information regarding an employee’s identification and authorization to work in the United States. The law led to the creation of the I-9 form.

In 1997, the federal government launched a test program that allowed employers in some states to take an additional step and confirm the information provided on the Form I-9 with the Social Security Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

By 2007, the program was named E-Verify. Two years later, federal agencies began requiring many of their contractors to use E-Verify to confirm the eligibility for new hires, and some states followed, including North Carolina.

More than 409,000 employers across the United States use E-Verify to check employment eligibility, with about 1,300 new businesses signing up each week, according to the E-Verify site. About 98.65 percent of employees are automatically confirmed as authorized to work within 24 hours.

North Carolina’s law phased in the required use of E-Verify starting with companies with 500 or more employees by Oct. 1, 2012, employers with 100 or more employees by Jan. 1 and employers with 25 or more by July 1.

The state law excludes employees who work less than nine months.

Representatives of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, the N.C. Retail Merchants Association and the N.C. Military Business Center, and attorneys that represent business and federal contractors said so far businesses aren’t coming to them with problems caused by the E-Verify shutdown.

“I am not aware of any big headaches that this has caused,” said Phil Strach, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins, a national labor and employment firm with an office in Raleigh.

O’Briant said the state Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau has received about a dozen calls about the E-Verify shutdown. Staffers are advising callers to wait and see what extensions the feds allow once the shutdown ends.

Meanwhile the N.C. Retail Merchants Association sent out a notice to its 2,500 state members advising them to be prepared to initiate cases on all affected employees as soon as the system is available. “Employers should keep a list of affected employees and print the page demonstrating the unavailability of the E-Verify system for each day of the shutdown in order to evidence good faith compliance,” the advisory said.

Suzanne Beall, federal legislative director for the National Association of Home Builders, said they are hearing from businesses in states with stricter requirements, such as Arizona, which requires all employers to use the federal system.

“It’s really confusion and uncertainty” for some of those businesses that are hesitant to bring on and train employees before they are verified, Beall said. “There are a lot of questions,” she said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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