Employing illegal workers is an unlawful act in many regions, and frequently carries stiff penalties in the form of fines and criminal charges. By employing illegal workers, employers often subvert labor laws and violate restrictions on wages, hours worked, and safety requirements. Consequences for knowingly using illegal workers, or for failing to show due diligence in verifying working papers usually boil down to fines based on the length of time the worker is employed and the amount of people employed illegally.
There are generally two categories of illegal employment: child labor, and the use of illegal immigrant labor. Child labor is generally punished with higher minimum fines, as it is considered a violation of the rights of a vulnerable sector of citizens. Despite popular belief, child labor issues are certainly not relegated to Third World countries and the domain of sweatshop labor; in 2005, the US Department of Labor recorded over 2,000 cases of child labor violations, resulting in a finding of more than 9,000 minors employed illegally. Child labor used for prostitution, the creation of pornography, or use in drug trafficking is often a serious criminal offense that can carry major penalties including a lifetime jail sentence.
Illegal immigrant labor is a far more widespread issue, particularly in industrialized nations with strong immigration laws. Employing illegal workers is a serious legal concern for a variety of reasons, many of which revolve around the opportunity for unfair and unlawful treatment of illegal workers by employers. Since an illegal immigrant lives in danger of discovery and deportation, they are far less likely to complain about workplace safety, employer violations, wage inequity, or sexual harassment in the workplace. As they are undocumented, an employer may be able to get away with paying them far less than federal or regional minimum wage, and easily skirt regulations on health insurance and safety laws. Workers who threaten to complain can also be coerced or blackmailed into silence by employers who threaten to alert authorities.
With the opportunity for corruption and ill treatment so high, some critics and legal scholars suggest that the penalties for employing illegal workers are far too low to make any difference. In many countries, an employer can be fined for employing an illegal worker, for not keeping accurate paperwork, or for violating labor laws, but the fines may be vastly overridden by the profit of maintaining a low-wage workforce without the added expenses of health benefits or safety precautions. In the United States, employers that show a pattern of illegal hiring practices may be subject to criminal charges as well as civil penalties, but this is not always enforced.