How the Arizona Immigration Law Will Impact Every HR Function

Undoubtedly you have heard about the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the controversial immigration bill that makes it a crime to be in the state without proof of citizenship or legal immigrant status, but have you thought about what it means for you as an employer?

Even if your organization does not employ individuals in Arizona or have employees who travel to or through Arizona, chances are the new legislation will impact your organization in one way or another. SB 1070 has rocketed race relations issues, on a decline in recent years, back to a spotlighted position on the national and some would argue global stage.

While you may or may not support Arizona’s attempt to curb illegal immigration, the important thing is that you take action to prevent it from negatively impacting the productivity of your organization.

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Potential SB 1070 Impacts to Prepare For

While Arizona Senate Bill 1070 is only applicable within the confines of the state, its passage causes ramifications that extend much farther in scope that all organizations will need to prepare for. Some of the issues you should be contemplating include:

Ramifications for Organizations with No Ties to Arizona

  • Employee conflict — SB 1070 has reignited debate about immigration issues in the United States, and in forums across the country individuals who feel strongly one way or the other are talking. Should the debate spill into the workplace either accidentally or as a means to instigate conflict, populations most connected to the issue will likely be affected emotionally. Emotional conflicts can wreak serious havoc on productivity levels and often require managers and HR representatives to engage in conflict resolution. It might be a good time to remind employees and managers about avoiding bias in the workplace and to review all processes that relate to conflict resolution, communication, and performance management.
  • Specific concerns for Hispanic employees — while SB 1070 doesn’t focus specifically on individuals of Hispanic origin, Arizona does sit on the border with Mexico, and much of the illegal immigration plaguing the state is attributed to Hispanic immigrants seeking employment in the U.S. How your organization reacts to the passage of SB 1070 will send a clear message to first-, second-, and third-generation immigrants about your organization’s view on the value and need for immigrant labor. Missteps may have long term implications on your employment brand, recruiting ability, and sales potential.
  • A renewed focus on diversity — immigration and diversity are closely linked, so as the debate about immigration rockets to center stage, so too will diversity issues. While your organization may take a strong position supporting diversity, it is likely that small issues that would otherwise resolve themselves may take on more charged paths, resulting in an increase in formal complaints of discrimination.
  • A renewed focus on employment eligibility — SB 1070 makes it a felony in Arizona to not verify employment eligibility via E-Verify and to maintain records of verification for all employees. The increased visibility of the consequences of hiring individuals not legally permitted to work in the United States might lead to organizations outside Arizona double-checking their existing workers, tightening up of hiring policies and processes, and an increase in eligibility questions from hiring managers.
  • Economic boycotts of Arizona — organizations large and small are lining up to voice their distaste for Arizona’s actions by boycotting companies based in Arizona and prohibiting business travel to or through the state. California’s two largest cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have already taken action to sever contracts with vendors based in Arizona, and state lawmakers are considering expanding the boycott statewide. Large conventions are also canceling plans to hold events in the state, the largest so far being the 11,000-member Immigration Lawyers Association. While your organization may or may not use its economic prowess to influence political issues, chances are some of your employees may feel strongly about doing so and refuse to participate in company activities that involve Arizona.
  • Wage pressure — individuals of Hispanic origin, including many from Mexico, make up a significant portion of the working population in a number of states. Employers in the agricultural, hospitality, foodservice, and construction industries in Nevada, Colorado, and Utah may find supplies of non-immigrant workers who bounce from employer to employer under special non-immigrant visas in shorter supply. As the supply of labor decreases, labor costs are likely to increase. Other states bordering Mexico (California, New Mexico, and Texas) however, will likely see an increase in non-immigrant labor interest.
  • Global issues — the extensive international press coverage surrounding this issue may make it more difficult for U.S. companies to sell products or to recruit in countries where the population is sympathetic to open borders. Even if your firm isn’t involved in the conflict, expect some guilt by association.
  • Union concerns — many unions appear to be actively protesting the renewed focus on immigration status, so if any of your employee classes are represented by a union or is the subject of union organizers, expect more questions and an increase in the number of grievances/complaints related to this issue.
  • Retention issues — as the economy heats up, retention will become a major issue regardless of this immigration conflict. Expect all politically motivated employees to use “how you handle this immigration issue” as a factor in their decision on whether to stay or leave.

Ramifications for Organizations That Employ Individuals in or Who Travel to Arizona

  • Travel and exposure issues — SB 1070 gives law enforcement officials the right to stop, question, arrest, and detain any individual they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. While it has the potential to impact many employee populations, individuals who work in the transportation industry or in locations subject to a large police presence may be even more impacted. Employers may find existing employees with a legal right to work in the U.S. but prone to racial profiling to avoid certain situations.
  • Productivity issues — whatever happens in your employees’ personal lives will also impact their ability to concentrate on their work. If an individual employee or their close friend or family member has an immigration concern, it likely will negatively affect the employee’s morale and productivity. Even school-related immigration issues may distract your employees focus and productivity.
  • Employee transfers — expect a portion of your current employees, especially those most likely to be profiled as possible illegal immigrants, to show an increased interest in transferring out of the state. You may also experience an increase in difficulty getting liberal-leaning employees to transfer into the state.
  • Recruiting issues — Recruiting individuals from outside the state to work within Arizona will be more complicated. While individuals who support the law might be more willing to work in Arizona, others including diverse individuals and liberal-leaning individuals would likely be the more difficult to sway.
  • Retention issues — Expect a portion of your current employees, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, to want to leave the state. If you can’t provide them with transfer opportunities, they may choose to leave your firm and seek employment with another organization out of state.
  • Business impacts — firms subject to statewide boycotts, including those in the travel and hospitality industry, need to prepare for short-term downturns. The stock price of individual firms might also be impacted if analysts and the public perceive that the firm may benefit or be harmed by the immigration issue.
  • HR issues — while few of the bills provision specifically focus on employer responsibilities, the bill has far-reaching implications for the workforce in general, and HR leaders need to be proactive at identifying and responding to employee concerns, including those voiced anonymously. Periodically asking the employee population what information they need, and understanding their expectations regarding your organization’s response will help ensure minimal impact. Establish a single point of contact for employees and managers who will be held accountable for managing the overall response to the issue. Corporate council will need to be consulted to determine if practices and procedures (including privacy issues) need to be updated as a result of the new law.
  • Absenteeism — expect and increase in absenteeism and late arrivals by employees likely to be profiled as illegal immigrants by authorities and detained while legal status is verified.
  • Management training — local managers and supervisors will need to be provided with training or educational materials to prepare them for questions and problems encountered. Executives will need coaching on what to say and what not to say to employees and the media.
  • Local wage pressures — even more so than in the rest of the U.S., fewer available workers within Arizona will mean increased pressure to raise wages in order to attract the best.
  • Supplier issues — your suppliers and vendors that have large Hispanic employee populations might experience more service interruptions as labor issues manifest.

Final Thoughts

Many corporate executives and HR professionals consider the immigration issue a political one, but it is also a major business issue with ramifications that need to be addressed with decisive plans and clear communications. The initial challenge is for senior management and HR to develop a process that can identify likely issues early on, and develop a response plan or implement preemptive measures to prevent the issue from occurring. If your organization hasn’t set aside some time to assess how this issue will impact your business and your employees, the time to act is now. Obviously the immigration issue will become even more important if Congress acts on immigration reform or if more states enact similar legislation. The key phrase to remember is that “it’s better to be prepared than surprised.”

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



16 Comments on “How the Arizona Immigration Law Will Impact Every HR Function

  1. Thank you for taking the time to make these thorough recommendations. For the most part you offer good and proper advice.

    I would only take issue with one of your recommendations:

    “Employers may find existing employees with a legal right to work in the U.S. but prone to racial profiling to avoid certain situations.”

    It is this kind of vague advice, however well-intentioned, that underscores what makes the new law so burdensome to Latinos.

    Which “certain situations” are those “prone to racial profiling” to avoid?

    Drinking a few beers and playing pool with colleagues at the local bar? Driving alone late at night to the airport? Should we start carrying our passports?

    Wouldn’t it be most prudent for us to avoid AZ altogether?

    I’d say it’s best for Latinos to go on behaving as if nothing has changed. Let’s just see how it goes!

    At the bottom of your list, I would add that employers should go beyond being “prepared” and should voice their concerns about the legislation, if any, directly to the legislature in Arizona and to the Federal Government.

    If something should go awry, we wouldn’t want corporations to have to say “we were just following orders.”

  2. Good advice John and I also applaud Alex De Soto’s addendum for staffing leaders to voice their concerns through their firms directly.

    Many businesses can and will lobby for immigration improvements in permanent and guest worker legislation in the next few months. This is an opportunity for staffing professionals to step up inside their respective firms and make a rational case for finding, selecting, wooing or simply retaining talent that can drive their firm’s US performance.

    While being mindful of the cost to productivity of the emotional aspects of this debate, we shouldn’t ever fear engaging in the debate for the longer term return that effective solutions will generate. Let’s confront constructively not avoid.

  3. Unfortunately, this article continues many misconceptions regarding SB 1070 here in AZ, which has been very much distorted by most media outlets. First, Arizona voters passed a bill a few years ago that tightened hiring standards for employers, including requiring the use of E-Verify. This is nothing new. And secondly, you stated that “SB 1070 gives law enforcement officials the right to stop, question, arrest, and detain any individual they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally.” This is not true – it gives AZ law enforcement the right to ask for identification if there is a legal reason to detain the individual – such as a traffic stop, arrest, etc. They cannot stop someone solely to ask for their ID. None of us exist in our society without having to present ID for one reason or another.

    Please read the bill itself before making assumptions. The bill basically mirrors what is already Federal law – which states that all aliens must have their ID, whether a green card or passport, on them at all times. It’s not different when we all visit other countries. Do you travel without carrying your passport?

    Again, please read the law and don’t rely on what you hear in the media. Stirring the pot with misconceptions doesn’t help any situation, in or outside the workplace.

  4. Thank you Kim for this clarification. While the article had some good points to consider, I was concerned at what was listed as potential ramifications. First, the immigration issue is not solely with Hispanics, there are undocumented folks from many countries. It is not racial profiling to ask for ID’s. As Kim stated, we are asked for ID’s when pulled over for a traffic stop, at the airport, etc. Should I feel that because I have blond hair and blue eyes, that someone was racial profiling me when asked for my ID recently? I commend AZ for trying to adhere more strongly to the Federal Law. We have problems in this country with people crossing the borders in Mexico and Canada. Our economy can no longer support illegal immigrants; US citizens are losing their homes, their jobs and cannot feed their families, how are they supposed to feel about the government providing assistance to illegals? Would US citizens be provided the same assistance if they went to these other countries? Instead of the Hispanics or other ethic groups being upset over this law, perhaps they should offer to financially sponsor some of these folks to decrease the burden on the unemployed US citizens. Our employees need to keep political issues outside of the workplace, do their jobs and be thankful that they are employed.

  5. “SB 1070 has rocketed race relations issues, on a decline in recent years, back to a spotlighted position on the national and some would argue global stage.”

    “It might be a good time to remind employees and managers about avoiding bias in the workplace and to review all processes that relate to conflict resolution”

    “expect and increase in absenteeism and late arrivals by employees likely to be profiled as illegal immigrants by authorities and detained while legal status is verified.”

    These statements from the article are a stretch at best, and should not have been brought up in the article. This is not a race relations issue! It is an ILLEGAL immigration issue!! Have we forgotten what the word illegal means? READ THE BILL, it does not allow the police to stop anyone at anytime. There are 540,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona, sucking up our tax dollars. Arizona has the right as a state to protect it’s borders since the Federal Govt. cannot do the job correctly.

  6. I echo Kim, Kurt and Karen’s sentiments entirely and wonder where the outrage is when we work with companies that won’t accept a “white guy” because the Federal government gives them credit for “diversity” candidates – even green card holders from Indian are considered “diversity” and given preferential treatment in the hiring process. Once while working with a big pharma company, they had an opening for Manufacturing Mgr and needless to say, I had a few good ones due to other searches. Do you think they would look at a “white male” candidate that was the most qualified sitting in their backyard? No, you bet your bippy they wouldn’t. It had to be a “diversity” candidate. What is it that we have such discrimination in this country against all the races? No one is treated equal and for one reason or another someone gets a leg up on another even if they aren’t as qualified. Why don’t we hire “the most qualified” candidate and take the racial component out of it all together?
    As far as AZ protecting their own borders (thank you!)they are only mirroring what the Federal government has failed to do for way too many years. Who talked about America “occupying” Iraq? Where are those people? Why aren’t they talking about “illegal hispanics” occupying America while they live here with more benefits than most of us? Thank you AZ – you set a great example for the rest of the states to follow since we have such weak leadership at the Federal level.

  7. The law that Arizona is trying to enact, mirrors the same requirements as a foreigner entering Mexico would experience.

    The people that should be outraged, should be all the hard working foreigners that came here seeking a better life, that crossed are borders legally, and followed the process and procedures to become American citizens.

    You could bet if Washington DC was located in a border state, that border security and enforcement would be considerably advanced.

  8. I intend to make this article required reading for all “thought leaders” on Race-baiting, Distortion, White guilt, and Victimology. After all, ERE put in the “Advice & How To’s” section.

  9. I applaud the comments clarifying the specific language of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation. In addition to debunking the “sky is falling” nature of this ‘Advise and How Tos’ article, we should also keep in mind the circumstances that have driven that state to enact the law, mainly illegal drug activities, rising costs to support indigent care programs, etc. The idea that cities in California (a state teetering on the edge of declaring insolvency in-part because of these same issues) are boycoting Arizona, to me, only reflects the upside-down, irrational reasoning that has long plagued that state.
    What about the ethical questions of those employees illegal alien relatives? What about harboring and abetting criminals? While working at a major corporation, I remember having to administer a pre-employment questionaire asking candidates what they would do if they became aware of any illegal activities by fellow employees. The only correct answer was that they were required to report such activity to their management.
    I feel that the most reasonable lesson and reminder we can learn from Arizona’s legislation is that HR is responsible for protecting their company from current law, legal entanglements instead of what laws they interpret might cause anticipated racial bias and EEO guideline issues. HR should be leading the charge to assure that their companies are not hiring and/or employing illegal alien employees instead of worrying about losing employees that don’t agree.

  10. Hispanic is not a race, and not a national origin; it’s an ethnicity. There are black hispanics and white hispanics and hispanics of many other races.

  11. I hate identity politics in all manifestations and hope for a day when they are no longer practiced.

    I urge everyone to do as much as possible to seperate their political views from their conduct of economic business.

    Natrually business owners are drawn to ownership in some cases just so that their organizations can mirror themselves, but that’s a very expensive and risky indulgence these days.

    You just dont know what some important customer, candidate, supplier, or other stakeholder may think on some political point or how serious they are about tribal loyalty- red, blue, or purple.

    OTH, in privte life, I am all for politics as blood-sport- that’s the American way, and I’m not just going to sit here while people badmouth the United States of America !

  12. The “late to work because they were detained” issue is about the silliest i have seen anywhere in regard to this bill.

    I most agree with the comments here to READ the Bill before coming up with this kind of advice. That is right up there with i’m late because i lost my frisbie and my bicycle chain froze. Under the statutes of this bill if someone is stopped only for the reason that they “might” be an illegal they can sue the city and the state so they won’t be showing up at all because they will be quickly financially independent.

    Don’t think for one minute that this does not put law enforcement under a spotlight NOT to stop for just an immigration check.

    If an employee uses that excuse check twice as throughly it’s most probably right up there with the frisbie.

  13. If anyone is concerned about the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070, it is the people that are in this country illegally, know people that are, or support illegal workers. Today, it is not uncommon to check a person’s credit history for consideration as a job applicant.
    Racial profiling? So what! This is a stupid argument that is intended to favor possible illegal immigrants. Unless you are hiding something there is absolutely nothing to worry about. If someone is questioned about their legal status, only those that are illegal have anything to fear. They are breaking the law, they know it, and enforcing the law should not be considered anything else but enforcing the law and construing it as anything else is asinine. Watching Mexicans climb fences, wade the Rio Grande, and simply run through border crossings is an embarrassment to this nation.
    If we are law abiding citizens, there is nothing that will affect us other than removing those that sneak into this country to do little more than take advantage of the rights of those the law is intended to protect.
    We have immigration laws for a reason. If someone wants to come into this country legally there are procedures and protocol to accommodate them. The illegal immigrants are just cutting in line ahead of those that have applied legally and making a mockery of our legal system.

    Something must be done, and Arizona is setting an example that will be followed by more states in the near future. The only ones that have anything to fear are those that are breaking our laws. Otherwise, why even bother with any law? At what point will ignoring law stop?

  14. Great comments to a poorly thought out blog. I would urge the largely uninformed regarding AZ’s new law to do two things after actually reading the bill:

    1. Read the NYT’s piece from 5-1-2010 about the Democratic plan:
    You should find the Democrat’s national plan much more restrictive; however we won’t see it soon since the overreaction to AZ’s bill from the biased bloggers and main stream media.

    2. Review the history of the great folk-hero, Cesar Chavez.
    You will find that he demonized the immigrant workers as anti-union and got the US Congress to drop the Bracero Program in 1964 that allowed immigrant workers into the country to work legally. He formed what he called the “wet line” to stop immigrant workers from entering the country and in one incident Chavez and the UFWs physically assaulted immigrant workers. He claimed in a book he later published to have turned in many he “suspected” of being illegal to the authorities – its okay for him to profile I guess.

    AZ’s law is not as aggressive as either of these. We simply want the use of the “sanctuary city” idea dropped. When the undocumented person, without license or proof of insurance, is allowed to walk away (drive) from a traffic accident because the police are told not to pursue their status, it is very costly to the documented driver. I was told to pursue it in civil court but how can you when no traffic report is made or no names or addresses are collected?

    And as far as the silly recommendation to boycott AZ’s tourism – who do you think works in the hotel industry and restaurants? Indirectly it may help us diminish the population of illegals.

  15. There is little I, nor anyone, can add that has not been said. It is sadly disturbing, though perhaps not entirely unexpected, that such an intellectual thinker could concoct such silly and ill-informed outcomes of a state bill that was enacted solely because the federal government has failed to act upon federal law for more than 25 years.

    What has Arizona done? If you are a clear thinker, not given to emotionalism or over-stretched intellectualism, you know that Arizona has now vividly proven the lie of our federal government. Which is…the federal government cares less about us as citizens, regardless of race or ethnic origin, than they do about protecting and increasing their vote base. Such a dereliction of duty, and refusal to adhere to the oath of office, should be grounds for impeachment (I speak not only of the Presidency, but of all elected officials who are guilty of these counts, from both parties). I do not think that I ever have been more ashamed of our federal government than I am now.


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