Hoteliers should take preventive measures against a new law that authorizes law enforcement officers to question and detain suspected illegal immigrants in Arizona.
According to hospitality industry human resources and legal experts, the signing of immigration enforcement legislation in Arizona has not only caused rancorous debate; it has the potential to impact hotel owners and HR directors throughout the nation.
The Arizona problem
The magnitude of illegal immigration and employment in Arizona is difficult to underestimate. A 2009 study by Pew Research Center placed Arizona’s illegally employed at 9.8 percent of the state’s total workforce, nearly the same as neighboring California, even though Arizona employs six times fewer people.
Nevertheless the new law has hospitality operators in Arizona shaking their collective heads. “Why Arizona would do this, from a business perspective is a mystery to me,” said Alan Momeyer, vice president of human resources for Loews Hotels, operators of the 398-room Ventana Canyon resort in Tucson. “The people who will be most hurt,” Momeyer added, “are the dishwashers and room attendants and bell staffs who suffer when people don't visit our hotels.”
The Arizona restaurant industry, its traffic buoyed by tourism and high hotel occupancy, will not escape injury. Brian McDonough, senior director of employment for Marie Callender’s, a casual chain with seven locations in Arizona, acknowledged the intent of the law but suggested an ironic consequence: “While this … law makes it more difficult for illegal aliens to enter the workforce in Arizona, we are concerned that legal immigrants will relocate elsewhere, causing a gap in available candidates for positions not easily replaced by the current population.”
McDonough’s and Momeyer’s concerns were echoed by a third senior hospitality HR leader with company locations in Arizona, who requested his employer not be named. His ability to recruit new employees, he said, has been affected since 2008 when Arizona became the first of two states—the other is Mississippi—to require all employers to use E-Verify, the voluntary identification system operated by the Department of Homeland Security. “There are clearly fewer applicants available in the local labor pool,” he offered, but added that “the cost of training and then losing an undocumented worker makes it worth our while to spend the extra effort on the front end (to recruit the legally employable.)”
Potential legal fallout warrants preventive measures
Pavneet Uppal, managing partner of the Phoenix office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, a nationwide employment and labor law firm, said the publicity associated with the law means Arizona employers should watch for potential issues. “Increased awareness of civil rights and the prospect of racial profiling may lead to an uptick in the filing of employment discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin.”
Labor and employment attorney James J. McDonald, Jr., managing partner for the Irvine, California, office of Fisher & Phillips warned hotel owners and HR directors nationwide to be vigilant as reaction to the Arizona law builds. “This kind of legislation—and the media attention it gets—tends to increase hostility between Hispanic workers and workers of other races in workplaces where relations are already tense,” McDonald stated. “Hospitality employers should consider providing extra training for managers and employees on the application of the employer's policy against harassment to harassment of employees based on their ethnicity. Such training should provide examples of conduct that would violate a company policy against harassment, such as referring to Hispanic employees as illegal aliens, using slurs such as ‘wetback,’ and teasing Hispanic employees with taunts such as, ‘Immigration is looking for you.’ Certainly, employees caught using this sort of language should be disciplined for violation of the policy against harassment.”
McDonald added that employers should be “ensuring that their I-9 compliance is correct, that they are not requiring over-documentation of employees, and that ‘English-only’ polices are properly implemented.”
He also cautioned against overreaction. “While it is lawful to require employees who come into contact with guests to speak English, requiring that all employees speak only English on the job may be attacked as discriminatory.”
Janet Hoffmann, a former senior hospitality HR executive now heading Hoffmann & Associates, consultants on HR and organization development, advised employers to be legally compliant but to also get involved in finding solutions. “Employers should continue to follow their hiring procedures of ensuring they verify identity and eligibility to work. They should also lend their voice to finding a balanced approach to immigration reform that addresses questions of border security and maintains a sustainable workforce.”
Charles A. Conine, SPHR is president of Hospitality HR Solutions and group leader for HR and employee relations at Cayuga Hospitality Advisors. Email Chuck at email@example.com.
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