Chipotle Under Investigation for Hiring Practices

February 10, 2011

An immigration review of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.'s workers has spread to 60 of its restaurants in Virginia and the nation's capital, the Denver-based chain said Tuesday.

A spokesperson told CBS19 the Charlottesville store in the Barracks Road Shopping Center is among those that have submitted employment documents to immigration officials.

Chipotle fired hundreds of workers in Minnesota after Immigration and Customs Enforcement reviewed employees' I-9 forms last year and found some with "suspect documents." The I-9 forms prove whether employees are eligible to work in the United States.

Workers who couldn't clear up questions were dismissed. Spokesman Chris Arnold wouldn't disclose exactly how many workers were fired but said Chipotle has 50 restaurants and about 1,200 employees in Minnesota.

"It's certainly disruptive to the business and to the lives of
employees," he said.

Arnold said Tuesday that ICE gave a notice of inspection of workers' documents for the restaurants in Virginia and Washington, but the agency hasn't said yet whether any are suspect. An ICE spokesman didn't immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.

In the past two years, ICE has audited more than 3,200 employers suspected of hiring illegal workers.

At Chipotle, a hiring manager and someone in human resources check employees' documents, Arnold said, but some employees may submit false identities. Arnold said the ICE checks were "eye-opening" because the company believed it had legal workers.

"It's difficult and even heartbreaking because these were really good employees," he said.

The dismissals are indicative of a system that isn't working, Arnold said. Employers must walk a fine line between vigorously screening applicants to make sure they are legal without discriminating against potential employees, he said.

He said the company uses the federal E-Verify database to check worker eligibility in some states and has talked to ICE about expanding its use.

Chipotle has more than 25,000 employees.

Meanwhile the chain is fighting a lawsuit filed by some former Minnesota employees who say the company didn't pay them their wages on time after they were fired for failing to provide documents proving they are eligible to work in the U.S. Arnold said workers were paid everything they were owed.

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