Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


A business owner from California called me the other day to discuss an issue that began with us talking about corrective action for one his employees, though it quickly evolved into a more serious topic. Initially, the business owner informed me that one of his long-time employees had taken a turn for the worse. The employee’s work performance was now unsatisfactory, his attitude has become riddled with sarcasm and negativity, and his attendance and tardiness have now become a problem. With that as the backdrop, the employee recently lied to the owner when asked if he went to the DMV, received current vehicle registration, and attached the tags to the license plate. He said he did it; he didn’t do it; he lied. To the owner.

Just in case you are wondering, that’s immediate termination in Steve’s world.

If the performance management benchmark for your company is that employees can lie to the business owner and only receive a written reprimand, all respect has been lost. Fact.

Back to the point. As instructed, the company reviewed the employee’s personnel file to verify all relevant content was contained therein, before conducting the termination. During that review, the owner became aware of the fact the employee had “expired documents regarding his work authorization.” Per standard protocol, I directed the owner to meet with the employee, inform him of the need for him to secure current, valid documentation from the federal government, and that due solely to his illegal immigration status, the employee would be suspended from employment until such new documentation would be provided.

Standard protocol, right?

Not so much.

Interestingly, the business owner said he did not want to follow that procedure. Parenthetically, that “procedure” is called the “law.” The business owner opined that he has known this employee for many years, was really a good guy, and as such, the owner did not want to suspend him; even though paradoxically, a couple of days prior to this epiphany, the owner was preparing to terminate the employee.

During our ongoing conversation, I cogently reminded the owner that up until this point, he was unaware of the employee’s immigration status. However, with this newfound information, he now has “personal knowledge” of the employee violating federal immigration law. “Personal knowledge.”

We are all very much aware of the precedent setting fine of $95,000,000 levied against Asplundh Tree Experts Co. several years, when it was found that company management willfully and knowingly employed illegal aliens. In other words, the company management at Asplundh had “personal knowledge.”

Let me be clear: I readily acknowledge the insulting hypocrisy of the federal government encouraging and sustaining tens of millions of illegal aliens into our country, all the while holding companies criminally accountable if they are found employing illegal aliens. Beyond that undisputed fact, I do not want any business owner to view that blatant duplicity as rationale to break the law and suffer any consequence.

Speaking of consequences, while federal law and respective state laws may differ, here are potential penalties for employing an illegal alien in the state of California:

• Loss and/or suspension the business license;
• Criminal and/or civil fines ranging from $250 to $16,000 per illegal alien;
• A prison sentence of up to 10 years for harboring an illegal alien employee.

I know we would never hire an illegal alien. Yet, I know a business owner, who knows a business owner, who knows a business owner who has a long-term employee, “who is a really good employee,” with invalid immigration paperwork, on the payroll. That’s called “personal knowledge,” okay Mister Asplundh!

That “personal knowledge” is not loyalty to the employee; it is the business owner’s self-incrimination of violating federal law.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.