Tom Smart, Deseret News archives
Grand America

SALT LAKE CITY — A Department of Homeland Security audit has determined that an unspecified number of employees at the Grand America hotel lack valid documentation to work in the United States.

A statement released by Bruce T. Fery, president of Grand America, said DHS launched the audit in October 2010.

"During this audit process, DHS determined that some hotel employees did not have valid documentation to work in the United States even though they had presented facially valid documents when they were hired," the statement said.

Some employees were able to provide documentation to satisfy auditors and retained their jobs.

Earlier this month, "DHS notified the hotel that those who had not been able to document their right to work in the United States could no longer be employed after today," Fery said.

One source said 120 banquet servers, housekeepers and grounds crew were affected, although an email from Fery's executive assistant said "the number is significantly less than 120."

Fery said the Grand America hotel followed federal hiring regulations since employing its first employees in 2001.

"In 2006, the hotel began verifying all applicant Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration, a step that was not required by the federal government or the state of Utah," he said.

Similar audits have been conducted or are under way at a number of businesses in Utah and other states.

Michael Johnson, executive director of the Utah Hotel and Lodging Association, said the issue of employee documentation is challenging for hoteliers and others in the hospitality industry.

The Grand America, he said, has used a verification system for years. The documentation of all new hires is checked against federal databases under the E-Verify system. The state requires the checks but there is no enforcement mechanism for the law. Federal participation by employers is voluntary unless the business holds federal contracts.

The checks are limited to determine the eligibility of new hires only.

"If someone was hired 10 years ago, the company can't do anything about verifying in retrospect. They're kind of out of luck," Johnson said.

Typically, hotels that take a hard line in documenting employees' eligibility can have a hard time filling jobs, Johnson said.

"It's incredible. I've talked to hotels that have opened positions for housekeepers at $12 an hour and those positions sit open for months without applicants," Johnson said. "Twelve dollars is a good wage and they can't fill those positions at all."