Making Workplace Verification a Little More Fair

PHOTO: workersSam Edwards/Getty Images
A tweak to E-Verify would allow employees to receive email alerts.

Protections for immigrant workers could be better now that the federal government has tweaked a system it uses to verify employment eligibility.

The system, called E-Verify, checks the work eligibility of new hires. It's mostly voluntary right now, but an immigration bill passed in the Senate last week would make it mandatory for all employers within five years of the bill's final passage.

That's why a small change announced on Monday could be important.

Now, when employees apply for a job at a place that uses E-Verify, they'll have the option of being alerted directly if the system flags them as not being eligible to work. In the past, the employer would need to let the employee know if something had gone wrong.

With the change, workers will have the option of providing their email addresses. If E-Verify finds that you're not work-eligible, it will let you and the employer know.

This is important because the employment system can potentially encourage discrimination. If an employer ran your information through E-Verify and you turned up as not eligible to work, the employer might reduce your hours or decide to let you go, even before you've had a chance to contest your case.

This creates even more of a problem for immigrant workers. The system is much more likely to make a mistake verifying the work eligibility of a foreign-born person versus someone born in the U.S.

So this change gives those workers more of a chance to correct an erroneous response from the system.

The move attempts to answer one of the complaints about E-Verify that have been levied by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is concerned about worker rights.

It's also a sign that the folks at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are getting ready for the national rollout of the program that would likely happen if an immigration bill passes.