Employment Eligibility Verification: Tips on I-9 Compliance for Small Businesses

Immigration reform, “green cards” and the future status of documented and undocumented workers in the U.S. are political hot-buttons. If you cut through all of the rhetoric, one thing that is clear right now is that employers have significant responsibilities to comply with current federal legislation.
Maintaining “Forms I-9” (employment eligibility verification documentation) for all current employees and keeping records on past employees is a federal requirement. It is governed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), which are both part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Managing all of the I-9 reporting requirements can seem overwhelming for small business owners and managers. In this article, we outline the most important things small businesses need to know about complying with the reporting requirement for Forms I-9.

What small businesses need to know about managing I-9 compliance:

  1. I-9 files are different from regular personnel files.

Typically, a new employee fills out a pile of forms during the first few days with a new employer. Among the payroll, W-4 and benefit registration forms is the I-9 form. If a mistake is made on these other forms there is little risk of negative consequences. For example, if a date is penned in error or if the number of dependents is incorrectly entered, a change can be made and life goes on. But with the I-9 form, compliance is different. For the I-9 form, an incorrect entry that remains in the file could make the employer subject to a penalty. And an error could probably go undetected until a federal audit because almost all I-9 forms remain in a file folder without being reviewed after they are filled out.

  1. Fines for non-compliance can be substantial.

Federal compliance officers by law have the right to examine your records and impose a wide range of fines for non-compliance. The fines range hundreds of dollars per I-9 form. In addition, regulators can provide you with a list of employees who have incomplete on non-compliant documentation and give you a maximum of three days to either bring them to compliance or terminate their services.

  1. Completing an I-9 Desk Audit is the first step in managing the compliance process.

An I-9 Desk Audit is a review of the files of all current employees to determine the state of compliance and remedy deficiencies. An I-9 desk audit includes a complete review of all I-9 forms to determine if they have been correctly filled out and taking steps to bring documentation into compliance, The rules of compliance are very stringent and incomplete documentation must be addressed by leaving the original Form I-9 in tact with any changes, additions or deletions duly noted and recorded.

Action Items for I-9 Compliance:

  1. Comply strictly with rules and regulations by completing I-9 documentation within three days of bringing a new employee on board. For employees who cannot provide required documentation, you must terminate them.
  2. Avoid potentially discriminatory practices in administering the I-9 compliance process. For example, do not ask for any specific type of documentation or refuse to hire someone that does not have the type of documentation you would like them to have. There are many types of documentation that fulfill I-9 compliance.
  3. Keep your I-9 files separate from the other employee files under secure safekeeping.
  4. For employees who have documentation that by law must be renewed, keep a reminder on your calendar to update the file when the time comes due.
  5. Conduct periodic desk audits to ensure that you remain in compliance.
  6. Make sure you are using the most up to date forms and procedures from the USCIS.

If you have any questions about I-9 compliance or other human resources issues, please do not hesitate to contact me at fred.crandall@propartnerhr.com or (312) 498-4979.