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A Client, a Staffing Agency and E-Verify: What’s Permissible?

By Doreen D. Dodson

Companies facing an I-9 audit by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can be subject to heavy fines and penalties. Some companies that use staffing agencies may especially be concerned about their potential liability, particularly if they believe, after Browning-Ferris, they may be considered a joint employer with their staffing agencies due to the specific facts of the contract.  Can such a business, for its protection, demand that the staffing agency use E-Verify for all individuals placed with the client?

The issue of whether a business may demand that the staffing agency use E-Verify for all staffed individuals implicates the I-9 anti-discrimination provisions that the Department of Justice enforces.  A staffing agency may enroll in E-Verify as an employer or as an E-Verify employer agent with limited participation of hiring sites, but may not designate those hiring sites based on the national origin or citizenship status of employees hired at those sites. If the staffing agency only uses E-Verify at certain sites, it may create the appearance of a discriminatory practice, leading to complaints by employees.

Despite that, a recent TAL, a technical assistance letter, provided general guidelines for staffing agencies in this situation. It first reiterated compliance with the anti-discrimination provisions is required, but also stated that, to the extent E-Verify is used selectively by the staffing agency to meet the client’s demands for reasons “wholly unrelated” to the workers’ citizenship status or national origin, it likely will not violate any anti-discrimination provisions. As with guidance on other employment issues to employers, careful written documentation of the client’s legitimate reasons for the request, wholly unrelated to the citizenship status or national origin of the workers, is essential.