Panda Express—the world’s leading Chinese fast food chain—agreed to settle a US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into its Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification procedures. Panda Express was fined $400,000 and required to create a $200,000 fund to provide back pay to affected employees.
Panda Express’ initial (new hire) employee verification procedures were fully compliant. The investigation focused on what DOJ deemed discriminatory Form I-9 practices during Panda’s re-verification process, which was based on an employee’s citizenship status or national origin.
Here, Panda Express required all legal permanent residents of the United States to reestablish their ability to work when their documents expired. Given that Panda Express did not require the same of their United States Citizen employees, DOJ deemed the practice to be discriminatory, outside of the Department of Homeland Security’s Form I-9 reverification procedures, and a clear violation of federal immigration laws.
In addition to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, Panda Express must train its human resources department about federal laws relating to the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, and those that ban bias against immigrants.
Panda Express is one of thousands of employers across the United States that has been subject to random immigration audits, Immigration and Customs Enforcement site inspections, years of investigations, and significant fines. Employers must be proactive. The Form I-9 process is more complex than most employers assume. An employer has an affirmative legal responsibility to ensure full employment eligibility verification compliance in every instance, regardless of whether the employee is a new hire, a rehire, a long-timer, or an employee with soon-to-expire work authorization documents. Anything shy of I-9 perfection will certainly lead to an investigation.
Here is a link to the DOJ Press Release.
If you have any questions regarding I-9 Compliance or other immigration matters, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.