By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

E_VERIFY_LOGO.jpg FlagofTennessee-StateFlag.jpg

The Tennessee Legislature, with the Governor’s signature, has amended its non-mandatory E-Verify law to a mandatory E-Verify law, effective January 1, 2017.

In 2012, the State of Tennessee began to require large employers to use E-Verify or copy and maintain one of 11 identification documents, such as U.S. passport, permanent resident card, Employment Authorization card, driver’s license, and State of Tennessee ID card of all new hires. At the time of passage in 2011, there were a number of organizations opposing mandatory E-Verify, including the Chamber of Commerce. Beginning in 2013, the law expanded to cover employers with six or more employees; thus covering most employers in the State.

In the 2016 legislative session, it decided to revise E-Verify to make it mandatory for all new hires of employers with 50 or more employees. This portion of the statute is effective January 1, 2017. This change puts Tennessee in line with most other southern states, though the 50 or more employees is a higher number than other states.

As for penalties, if an employer fails to verify the work authorization of an employee, it will be fined $500 for a first violation, and moves upwards from there. If an employer refuses to comply with the State order, it faces a fine of $500 per day.

If any of the employees are undocumented, the State will suspend the employer’s business license until it complies with the state law – verify the employee is authorized to work through E-Verify.

The action by the Tennessee Legislature is somewhat unusual as the last state to pass mandatory E-Verify was North Carolina in 2012. Also, in 2012, Pennsylvania passed a law to add E-Verify for state contractors. These are the last states to pass E-Verify legislation.

The threshold of 50 or more employees seems to be a compromise to get additional support from the super-majority Republicans in the legislature, many of which have strong ties to businesses. By using the 50-employee threshold, the law will not affect an enormous number of state businesses and many of the larger employers, such as International Paper and Singer Sewing, already use E-Verify to authorize their new hires.