Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Small Hiring Detail at Nebraska Beef Ltd. Results in Justice Department Investigation & Settlement

Three years ago, the Justice Department contacted a meatpacking plant based in Omaha, Nebraska; informing of an investigation initiated into the company’s labor practices.

On August 24, 2015 the Office of Special Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, announced that a settlement had been reached with Nebraska Beef Ltd., a private company with hundreds of employees at its single plant in Omaha.

While it was successful in its operations and and had the right pieces in place, Nebraska Beef Ltd. had a single distinction between the hiring process for US citizens and non-citizens; a distinction that was illegal and would prove to cost substantially. Specifically, Nebraska Beef Ltd., had been asking non-citizen employees to produce certain documentation to verify employment-eligibility.

But this “mistake” wasn’t extended to citizens, who indeed were allowed to choose what documentation they wanted to present from a list of acceptable documentation. This practice is unlawful discrimination and in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The settlement on the surface may appear to be a conclusion to the problems Nebraska Beef Ltd. is facing, but when reading the terms of the settlement the company agreed to, it is clear this will be a half decade long ordeal. Three years of investigation, dialogue, remediation efforts and another two years at least of legal requirements imposed on Nebraska Beef before they can fully return to normal.

The civil fine of $200,000.00 is due in just a few days, but there are more stipulations required by the federal judge handling the case. In example, for the next two years the company will have to make regular reports of its operations, who it hires, what training has been provided, the list of attendees at the required training, an audit of potential or past employees must also be produced. Nebraska Beef has to contact anyone who has applied for a job and provide them with an offer of relief from the uncapped fund they are responsible for establishing. 

Two years of monitoring by the government and reporting regularly to them will now become part of regular operations at Nebraska Beef Ltd. Because the full extent of possible victims of their discriminatory violations is not yet known, the un-capped fund is a yet undetermined cost the company will have to bear. In addition, they must pay the costs of locating and contacting the victims, as well as the additional training imposed during regular hours for Nebraska Beef's employees.

The entire problem rose from a single practice that could have been stopped had regular training on current and updated laws occurred. All of this would never have happened if Nebraska Beef’s paid attention to the regulations that govern their labor practices, they could have at least re-mediated the issue before it got out of hand. 

It is a hardly hidden stipulation in the rule books that says employers may not discriminate and yet, something as clear as day was entirely missed by a large company with hundreds of millions in sales. Now its too late to avoid the consequences, but for other employers this is a perfect example of what can happen to anyone. Form I-9 compliance has never been more important and employers have never seen enforcement at this level. Ever. 

Nebraska Beef is just one of many and even now, there is no doubt that there are other ongoing investigations that will soon make the news like this did.

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