COLUMBIA -- South Carolina businesses that want to stay out of trouble under the state's immigration laws should register to use a federal database to check employees' legal work status.
That was the advice given to about 60 business people who attended a Wednesday meeting to learn how to comply with the new law. The meeting was part of a series of S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation seminars on the topic.
"The statute is designed to force South Carolina employers to enroll in E-Verify," said Chris Lauderdale, a labor lawyer with Jackson Lewis in Greenville.
E-verify is a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Companies that use the system enter a newly hired worker's name and Social Security number into the Web site.
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Within seconds, the system verifies whether the name and number match, said Phyllis Bell, a Homeland Security employee who demonstrated the program.
Last year, 6 million queries were entered into the system, and 96 percent were authorized within 24 hours, Bell said.
The E-Verify system provides legal protection to companies that use it, Lauderdale said. That's because employers who use it are presumed to be in compliance with state and federal law.
"That's very significant," he said.
The South Carolina law allows companies a second option to verify legal status: Require an S.C. driver's license or a license issued by one of 20 states approved by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
However, that method opens the door to more legal problems for businesses, Lauderdale said.
"You don't want to open a mini-DMV in your human resources offices," he said. "Personally, I wouldn't use that unless I was running a family business and the only people I employed were my children."
Lee Depret-Bixio, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins, will give similar presentations later this week. She agreed with Lauderdale's assessment that most companies will use E-Verify.
If one newly hired person cannot present an approved driver's license, then the company has no option but to enroll in E-Verify. And once a company uses it to check one worker's status, then it must do the same for everyone else it hires, she said.
"Their hands are tied, and they're going to have to use it," she said.
As of Jan. 1, public employers, state contractors and their subcontractors, and businesses with 500 or more employees must verify new employees' legal status.
By July 1, 2010, all businesses in South Carolina will be required to verify the legal status of all newly hired employees. The S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation is responsible for enforcing the law.
Steve Davis, owner of Dexndox, a construction company, decided to use E-Verify after hearing the presentation.
"With this new program and the requirements they put forth, it will make it a lot easier on employers to be able to verify potential employees," he said.
Eventually, every employer in South Carolina will be required to verify the legal status of newly hired workers. Here are the dates the law will take effect for various employers.
- Public employers such as local governments, state universities and some hospitals.
- Government contractors, subcontractors and their subcontractors who do business with state and local government
- Private companies that employ 500 or more people
- Private businesses with 100 or more employees must begin verifying workers' legal status.
July 1, 2010
- Private businesses with fewer than 100 employees must begin checking the legal status of new employees.
To learn more, visit www.dhs.gov/E-Verify.