Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Penalties for Hiring Illegal Immigrants and Discriminating Against Legal Ones

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on July 21, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As an employer, you have many responsibilities with respect to workers and employees. You must pay certain taxes and contribute to various state and federal programs, and you must verify the employment authorization of each worker.

In the words of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Employers have certain responsibilities under immigration law during the hiring process." So let's look at your obligations and the penalties you face if you fail to fulfill your duty to the federal government.

Employer To-Do

The good news is that employers do not have to do too much to avoid trouble with federal immigration authorities. But you must verify employment authorization and cannot use agents to avoid responsibility for hiring people without the proper permissions.

An employer must verify the employment authorization of anyone hired after 1986 and must retain a form 1-9 for each employee. This form documents the fact that the employer has verified the employment eligibility of the individual.

Each I-9 must be complete and employers who do not fill these out in their entirety can be fined for the omissions, USCIS warns. Similarly, hiring or continuing to employ someone who is not authorized to work, or falsifying documents, subjects you to penalties. But the agency also bars discrimination and that too can subject an employer to agency actions.

Do Not Discriminate

Immigration authorities warn employers that they must not discriminate against individuals based on their national origin, citizenship, or immigration status. So, don't try to work around your immigration law obligations by only hiring people who seem especially American to you. That is discrimination and will subject you to costly lawsuits.

It is also a bad idea because you miss out on the benefits of diversity, like multilingual workers and additional perspective. It may feel awkward to deal with a name you can't pronounce or someone who seems unlike you. If so, work on yourself. The world is wide and full of types.

A homogenous office or staff may also impact how your customers or clients receive you. So in the interest of having a wide reach, teach yourself to get comfortable with slight discomforts. Immigrants do this -- they have to be to fit in here.


Employers who fail to follow verification rules, as well as anti-discrimination mandates, are subject to fines and even criminal penalties when there is a pattern or practice of violation, according to USCIS. The civil fines vary from $110 for a single first document falsification offense to $16,000 per violation on a third offense of discriminating against a person lawfully authorized to work. Your business may be barred from competing for government contacts too, so do verify work authorizations but avoid discrimination.

Consult With Counsel

If you are considering hiring workers or are concerned about any other aspect of business operations, get guidance. Consult with an attorney. Make sure you are doing all you can to follow the laws of the land.

Related Resources:

Was this helpful?

Thank you. Your response has been sent.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard