Central Florida Company’s Fines Reduced from $70,966.50 to $23,700.
Platinum Builders is a small, family owned and operated construction company that provides services, such as finish and structural work and residential and commercial building services, in Central Florida. The company became an ICE target and was served a Notice of Inspection (NOI) on July 19, 2010 and subsequently served with a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF) on March 19, 2012. The NIF alleged 69 violations, with a total penalty of $70,966.50, $1028.50 per violation.
Despite the fact that ICE contended that the company at 58 unauthorized workers, Platinum Builders asserted that it should not be found liable, and in the alternative that if it is, the fines should be reduced to an amount commensurate with the particular errors as well as its history and financial circumstances. The company tried to repeatedly stress that it is just a small family drywall business with only 26 employees and its tax returns evidence its modest income over the three period that ICE was investigating. OCAHO pointed out that the penalty amount requested by ICE, $1028.50 for each violation, is only $71.50 short of the maximum amount permissible. Previous cases have all pointed toward penalties approaching this high, maximum amount being reserved only for the most egregious violations. When the government considered Platinum Builders’ case as a whole, the court decided that the small family business’ penalties should be adjusted to an amount closer to the midrange of permissible penalties, $500 per more serious violations and $300 for less serious violations. Platinum Builders ended up with a total penalty amount of $23,700., a substantial drop from the original penalty amount of $70,966.50.
OCAHO courts seem to be showing favor to small businesses after they have been hit by an ICE investigation. However, an employer’s best asset is always immediate compliance with IRCA and related immigration laws. Penalties can be avoided by regularly performing I-9 audits to ensure employee I-9s are in tiptop shape.
OCAHO decision can be found here.
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