On May 10, 2023, Gov. DeSantis signed into law SB 1718, a sweeping immigration bill that will become effective on July 1, 2023. Among a number of other changes, this law creates new requirements for employers and strengthens the consequences employers may face for violating existing law.
Employers may not knowingly employ, hire, recruit, or refer workers who are not authorized to work in the United States. Thus, employers are required to verify their employees’ authorization to work in the country. Many employers fulfill this obligation by inspecting each employee’s identity and work authorization documents and filling out an Employment Eligibility Verification form (commonly referred to as the I-9 Form) for the employee. Some employers, including some government contractors and those who receive certain Florida state incentive funds, are already required to use a nationwide electronic verification system called E-Verify, in conjunction with the I-9 Form, to conduct the verification process. For most other Florida employers, the use of E-Verify has generally been voluntary.
SB 1718 now requires that all Florida employers with 25 or more employees and all Florida employers who contract with public agencies (and their subcontractors) must use the E-Verify system, with very limited exceptions. Covered employers will be required to certify their compliance with the E-Verify requirement each calendar year when making contributions to or reimbursing the state’s unemployment compensation or reemployment assistance system, and they will be required to keep copies of employees’ identity and work authorization documents and any documents generated by the E-Verify system for at least 3 years. Employers who fail to use E-Verify to verify their employees’ work authorization stand to face serious consequences: for repeated violations, depending on the circumstances, they may incur fines of $1000 per day of noncompliance, and they may have their licenses suspended until they can prove their compliance.
Additionally, SB 1718 imposes heavy consequences for knowingly employing, hiring, recruiting, or referring an unauthorized worker, which, depending on the circumstances, may include placing an employer on probation, suspending or revoking an employer’s license, or requiring an employer to pay back any economic development incentives they received from the state. Further, employers who contract with public agencies (and all of their subcontractors) face the possible termination of their contract(s) if they employ, hire, recruit, or refer an unauthorized worker. Such a termination would not be considered a breach of contract under the law (provided the public agency, contractor or subcontractor who terminates the contract has a “good faith belief” that the employer knowingly violated the law), and the affected employer may be barred from receiving public contracts for at least 1 year.
Employers may be subject to random audits by the office of Florida’s Chief of Domestic Security to ensure their compliance with immigration requirements, including those imposed by SB 1718.
Additionally, SB 1718 implements new restrictions that may be of concern to employers in some sectors because of the restrictions’ effects on their workforce. For example, SB 1718 imposes potential criminal penalties on individuals who knowingly and willingly transport undocumented immigrants into the state of Florida (though SB 1718 does not criminalize the transportation of undocumented immigrants within state lines). It also renders certain classes of driver’s licenses invalid, including those issued by other states exclusively to undocumented immigrants. Employers with concerns about the ramifications of SB 1718 for their work authorization process or their workforce should contact employment counsel to discuss their concerns in more detail.