Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a national tree-trimming company, will pay a record fine of $95 million after pleading guilty to a scheme involving immigration fraud. The $95 million payment represents the largest fine ever levied in an immigration case. In addition to the fine, Asplundh agreed to abide by an Administrative Compliance Agreement as set forth by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to court documents, Asplundh hired and rehired employees throughout the United States after accepting identification and work authorization documents it knew to be false. Managers relied on word-of-mouth referrals rather than an established application process in order to avoid having to properly verify employees. An ICE investigation revealed that the company also decentralized its hiring so that higher-level management could remain willfully blind to the company’s unlawful hiring practices.
Since learning of the federal investigation in 2015, Asplundh states it has hired compliance specialists, implemented a photo ID system, investigated every complaint about unauthorized workers, and taken other steps to eliminate its past practices. These additional compliance measures, in addition to the company’s $95 million fine, are sure to weigh heavily on the company as a going concern.
The Asplundh fines and agreement serve as a reminder of all employers to review their hiring practices and remain vigilant against fraudulent employee documents. Employers should be sure they are aware of I-9 employee verification requirements and ensure their managers and supervisors understand the risks involved in hiring employees without proper work authorization. To discuss Form I-9 and employee verification requirements in more detail, or to request a Form I-9 training and audit with one of our immigration specialists, please contact The Mitzel Group.