It’s a sign that the Trump administration is serious about enforcing laws that forbid knowingly hiring anyone who is not authorized to work in the country: The Department of Justice has extracted the largest-ever penalty from a company accused of employing ineligible workers.
Asplundh Tree Service has paid $95 million for turning a blind eye to the hiring of individuals that executives knew lacked proper documentation.
The case and resulting penalty should serve as a cautionary tale for employers with lax hiring practices. The administration may be considered relatively “pro-business,” but that doesn’t mean you can get away with flagrant violations of the law.
Asplundh is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, headquartered in Willow Grove, Pa.
The company pleaded guilty after the DOJ sued it for unlawfully employing undocumented immigrants. DOJ investigators and prosecutors described a scheme in which top executives willfully ignored it when lower-level managers hired (and rehired) employees they knew full well were ineligible to work in the U.S.
The penalty requires Asplundh to forfeit $80 million, and tacks on a civil penalty of $15 million.
A six-year audit and investigation uncovered a hiring process designed to make it easy for job applicants to present false documentation. Most hiring was done by word of mouth, not any formal application process.
The DOJ claimed this gave Asplundh a competitive advantage. Crews of highly motivated unauthorized workers could be dispatched nationwide in response to weather emergencies, cutting out competitors whose crews weren’t as willing to drop everything to take short, difficult assignments.
Final note: This case marks an ominous new prosecutorial twist—focusing on unfair competition through the use of illegal workers willing to endure poor conditions for low pay. Watch out if your hiring managers are being pressured to short-cut the employment eligibility documentation process.