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The immigration landscape keeps changing, and employers must keep up. Even employees who are in the United States illegally can sue you for failing to pay them overtime and minimum wage.

And now you also have to worry about employees who claim you hired illegal workers as a way to cut labor costs and therefore put legal workers at a competitive disadvantage.

Clever attorneys have begun filing RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act lawsuits, alleging that some employers are essentially running “mob” operations.

Recent case: Kyle Edwards and several other U.S. citizens sued their former employer, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchisee, claiming that the owner engaged in racketeering by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and encouraging them to remain in the country.

Edwards and his colleagues claimed Ruth’s Chris management supplied the illegal immigrants with the names and Social Security numbers (SSNs) belonging to former legal employees as a way to get around federal immigration laws.

The trial court dismissed the case, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed.

It concluded that, if it were true that the restaurant provided SSNs and names for illegal immigrants, that amounted to encouraging them to illegally immigrate for work opportunities. That could amount to a corrupt practice under RICO.

A jury will now get the case. (Edwards, et al., v. Prime, Inc., et al., No. 09-11699, 11th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Don’t think this applies to your company? Think again if you rely on local managers to provide hiring documents. Double-check all SSNs and names against former employees’ identification to make sure the information isn’t being “recycled.”

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