Mergers and acquisitions create chaotic periods for affected businesses, but they do not absolve those businesses of their obligation to ensure compliance with immigration and employment laws. In fact, the new entity becomes liable for the sins of the old. It must, therefore, perform its due diligence on Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 maintenance for all employees or risk civil and criminal penalties.
The current administration has cracked down on I-9 violations, costing businesses millions of dollars and resulting in thousands of arrests of both employers and employees. With the added scrutiny, it is more important than ever to have one’s I-9 ducks in a row. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recommends that businesses conduct self-audits (https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/798276/download) of their I-9 procedures, as long as they cannot be considered discriminatory or retaliatory. An ICE audit may be initiated for any reason—even an anonymous tip—so every business in the country is susceptible at any time.
Be prepared for paperwork. The newly acquired or reorganized business entity may take one of two routes in its approach to the old entity’s I-9s. Whichever I-9 strategy it chooses, a representative will need to sit down with each employee.
- The new entity may maintain the old ones previously completed I-9s, thereby accepting liability for any omissions or errors on the forms. If this road is taken, the business should make the time to review each form with each employee to update and re-verify the information to protect itself from possible mistakes created by the previous regime’s I-9 procedures. If this process is not completed by the date of the merger or acquisition, the new entity is legally responsible for any errors in the existing paperwork.
- The safer route is to complete a new I-9 for each employee before the date of the merger or acquisition. This requires an offer of employment to and acceptance by each employee who will remain on the payroll after the turnover date. The employee must complete Section 1 of the form by that date, and the employer must complete Section 2 within three business days.
The only exception is an employee hired before November 7, 1986, who has “a reasonable expectation of employment at all times.” These employees are exempt from completing I-9s.
If the paperwork must be done—and it must—it may be a good time to sign on to the federal government’s E-Verify program to make I-9 procedures airtight. Businesses such as federal contractors are required to enroll in E-Verify (https://www.e-verify.gov), and some states mandate participation under certain conditions such as business licensing. For most employers, however, the program is voluntary. E-Verify electronically matches employee documentation presented to attest to identity and work status against data maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The employer instantaneously receives either confirmation of the documents’ authenticity or notice that a problem may exist. E-Verify’s standards on documentation are higher, requiring a Social Security number and photo identification, but that serves only to further safeguard the business from I-9 problems.
So, we have a newly acquired or reorganized business which may or may not elect to shore up its I-9 situation through E-Verify, and we know that a ton of I-9 paperwork lies on the horizon whichever route we take. We can trod through the paperwork and file it away today, but of course, the job is just beginning. In fact, that was the easy part—compiling shiny new or freshly verified I-9s that, today, are in pristine shape. But tomorrow, employee verification documentation will expire on different days of different years, and state and federal laws and regulations will change when least expected. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a tool that could take the worry and uncertainty out of all this?
In 1998, a group of immigration and employment attorneys recognized the complexity of I-9 maintenance and its ever-evolving landscape and designed software to streamline the process and protect businesses. Lookout Services developed I-9 Intelligence, the first software aimed at simplifying I-9 form completion, the employment verification process and the secure, ongoing management of I-9s and supporting documents.
With an impending merger or acquisition, I-9 Intelligence will protect the new entity from old and future mistakes made by careless people administering the forms and from sloppy procedures. Poorly trained or willfully deceptive people acting in the field without oversight can cost a business. Even the most conscientious employer can make mistakes or simply fail to implement an important legal change. This I-9 software negates all of these frightening and all-too-real scenarios, converting a paperwork nightmare into a Human Resources dream by:
- Guiding the administering professional through completion;
- Immediately flagging mistakes or missing data;
- Providing dashboard alerts when forms are late, missing or in need of updating;
- Reporting on expiring documents, due dates and form retention timelines;
- Uploading old I-9 forms and checking them for errors and timeliness;
- Automatically altering forms to comply with new laws and regulations to ensure seamless compliance and
- Expanding options for complying with E-Verify by permitting even low-level HR employees to enter and receive data.
Take the guesswork out of I-9 compliance and ensure that your newly merged or acquired business is audit-ready from Day 1.