Employee verification ‘not that tough’ | AspenTimes.com

Employee verification ‘not that tough’

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

A new Colorado law aimed at preventing businesses from hiring illegal immigrants isn’t that difficult for employers to comply with, a state official says.

“To tell you the truth, folks, it’s not that tough,” Joe Herrera, a compliance officer with the state Department of Labor and Employment, told some 45 local company representatives at an educational workshop in Glenwood Springs last week.

Herrera said he’s heard concerns that House Bill 1017 creates a lot of paperwork. Actually, he said, compliance requires completing just one page. But he said he sympathizes with employers because it is yet one more form for them to fill out.

One employer asked Herrera just what the new law accomplishes, when employers already have to fill out a federal I-9 form, which seeks to verify that employees have legal status.

Herrera said the state law goes another step by requiring employers to keep copies of documents submitted by employees. He said the goal is to reduce employment of undocumented workers in Colorado, so all companies are competing on a level playing field.

One participant at last week’s workshop, who asked that her name not be used, suggested that laws such as House Bill 1017 may be making things worse rather than better. She said she works in bookkeeping, and her husband in construction. She thinks the crackdown on undocumented workers is resulting in more subcontractors hiring those workers and paying them under the table, saving money by not paying taxes, and gaining an edge over companies that follow the rules.

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Herrera said some of that will occur no matter what laws are in effect.

He said of the new law, “We’ll see how that works. It’s very, very new right now.”

The law covers all Colorado employees hired after Jan. 1. It requires employers to affirm that they have examined a new employee’s legal work status, retained copies of documents provided for the I-9 form, and not altered or falsified documents or knowingly hired undocumented immigrants.

Offenders face fines of up to $5,000 for a first offense, and up to $25,000 for subsequent offenses. But Herrera said the state’s goal is to obtain compliance through education, such as through the free workshops offered in both Glenwood and Rifle Wednesday.

And although the paperwork is supposed to be completed within 20 days after hiring, he encouraged employers who have not been following the new law to go through the process to get caught up.

He said the state eventually may conduct random audits to enforce the law, and also will investigate if it has reason to believe an employer hasn’t complied.

He said the state won’t conduct workplace raids the way the federal immigration officials do.

“We’re not going to your company and saying, ‘well, all these people, they’re not documented, we’re going to take them back,'” to their native countries, he said.

Also, employers aren’t expected to be experts in identifying false documents. But if something looks suspicious, they shouldn’t accept it, Herrera said.

“If there’s any question that it’s not the right document, that’s when you need to ask the person to bring you the right document,” he said. “Just do the best you can, that’s all we ask.”

Kristin Boronski, who owns the Once Upon a Child store in Glenwood Springs, said she appreciates the information provided by the state. She often runs into questions about the legal status of job applicants, and it’s difficult to keep up with changing immigration laws pertaining to employers, she said.

“There’s so many things that are happening that we don’t know about, what the process is, how we need to follow it, what the consequences are,” she said.

Information on the new law, and an affirmation form that can be used to comply with it, can be found at http://www.coworkforce.com/lab/evr/.