Philly Restaurant Merger Highlights Serious Issue for the Industry
Amis and Pizzeria Vetri have huge followings in the Philadelphia area. In an effort to grow, the family that owns the eateries struck a deal with another Philly company, Urban Outfitters (URBN). The acquisition was a dream come true for chef and owner Marc Vetri, because suddenly he could focus all his energy on the food, while someone else worried about the day-to-day business headaches.
"They have the shared services," Vetri told the Philadelphia Business Chronicle. "All of the lawyers, salaries, human resources, marketing and financials. All that is somewhere else, so we can now focus on the operations of the restaurants. How awesome is that?"
I’m sure chefs everywhere are thinking the same thing. But there was a catch. Being the large corporation that Urban Outfitters now is, they have much more stringent background screening requirements for their job applicants. That includes requiring all applicants to undergo an E-Verify screening to determine if they are legally allowed to work in the United States.
When URBN screened more than 400 Vetri employees, they found 30 who were working illegally. One of them had been with the company for 10 years, but could not be employed by URBN.
In an interview with Philadelphia Magazine, Vetri says he verified employment eligibility by what he refers to as "eyeball screening." If you wanted to work at his restaurant, Vetri managers would “eyeball” your paperwork and put it on file. He went on to say that they felt they were good as long as the paperwork “reasonably appears to be genuine.” That way, he claimed, they could always tell officials they checked the papers, so it wasn’t their fault if they were fakes.
When I put this story to our EBI experts they all said it is obvious that this employer just didn’t want to know the truth. They are actually lucky that it was URBN that found the violations instead of an auditor with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If ICE had raided the business, the restaurant owner could have faced fines up to $1,100 per violation. That’s IF the agents believed they really didn’t know they were hiring illegal workers. If they believed the business was knowingly hiring aliens, the fines would be as high as $3,200 per person… times 30 illegal employees. Fines totaling up to $96,000 could have put this family out of business forever.
While filling out I-9 Forms for all employees is required for all employers, confirming the information through E-Verify is not. Even though this extra peace of mind is free, many small businesses shy away from it. Many worry that they will have to let longtime employees go once they learn the truth. Urban Outfitters’ decision to use E-Verify to quickly make sure the information job applicants provide is accurate is a good one, and in our experts’ opinions, it’s something businesses of all sizes should consider.