Human Resources News & Insights

Feds’ new I-9 enforcement push: 4 ways to protect your company

Now is the perfect time for a review of your I-9 compliance efforts for a number of reasons.

For starters, the most recently revised form became mandatory in the fall.

Plus, the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (also known as ICE) can investigate your company’s I-9 records on an at-will basis – and has already been increasing these investigations with higher fines.

And because I-9 administration is one of the most routine tasks HR, benefits and payroll pros handle, it’s easy for minor issues to fall through the cracks.

But even the most minor issues can prove costly in the event of a federal visit. That’s why regular self-audits are so important.

Key: Before conducting the self-audit, make sure your roster of employees is up to date.

As employers know, all employees hired on or after Nov. 6, 1986, must have a completed I-9 on file. If you discover an employee doesn’t have an I-9 for whatever reason, make every effort to resolve the issue ASAP.

Review documents, discard excess

During your audit, you’ll want to make sure all documentation is accounted for. Chances are, you may have been hanging on to some unnecessary paperwork.

Employers are only required to keep documentation for former employees for one year after separation or three years, whichever is later.

Keeping documents you don’t need only gets in the way of your documentation process and could slow down your procedures.

4 common problems

During the audit, you’ll want to watch for these common errors:

1. Missing signatures. This error is made by both employees and employers. Recently, a staffing firm didn’t have the correct person signing for its remote workers and wound up getting hit with a $227,000 fine.

Another example: An event planning company failed to notice that Section 2 of the I-9s lacked all workers’ signatures. It wound up with more than 800 violations and a $605,250 fine.

2. Blank fields. Several fields in the I-9 are optional for employees (e-mail, telephone, etc.), but they can’t be left blank. These optional fields must include “N/A” in them. Employers can’t correct even the most obvious omissions, so if you notice a blank field, it’s critical to return the form to the employee to add “N/A.”

Note: Employees’ Social Security numbers aren’t required unless the employer uses E-verify.

3. Failing to help employees with Section 1. While not technically a mistake, not using a trained I-9 staffer to supervise staff filling out Section 1 often leads to mistakes and errors.

4. Failing to fix errors correctly. When mistakes are discovered on Section 2 and 3 of the form, the corrections must be initialed and dated by employers (Section 1 must be completed by the employee only).

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