In mid-October 2021, the current Secretary of the Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, confirmed in a memo that the Feds are going to cease doing worksite immigration raids and focus on more effective strategies, policies and practices. However, with raids decreasing, audits and compliance laws remain in place and the announcement for the end to ICE raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement may be giving many employers a false sense of assurance.
Halting these types of immigration raids does not mean that the federal government will be turning its head the other way and ignoring employer’s Form I-9 compliance responsibilities. The stakes may have become even higher for employers given a recent announcement that DHS will also increase I-9 compliance fines, tipping off concerns that I-9 audits may become a new wave of activity. It is perhaps more critical than ever for employers to use digital I-9 compliance software to ensure they are compliant with federal laws in the event that they are audited.
Changes to Worksite Immigration Raids Are Coming
One of the primary points made in the memo mentioned above regarding worksite raids is that raids have hurt individuals and communities, while leaving employers who exploited the employees largely untouched.
In an effort to combat this, the government is now vowing to focus less on the arrest or deportation of workers and more on the employers who are making a habit of breaking federal laws. The prevailing thought is the strategic change will lessen the fear of witnesses and victims of exploitation and labor trafficking in working with law enforcement to address the issue of unethical employers.
Advocates of this restructuring in policy say the primary benefits are two-fold:
- Employees will not be fearful of deportation as a result of coming forward to spotlight employer labor violations
- Employers will be held more accountable for the exploitation of workers
While there are others that argue the new laser focus on employers without much regard to the eligible work status of an employee is unjust, the new strategy remains in play for the time being and it is one that employers should be sitting up and taking careful notice of.
Audits and Compliance Laws Remain in Place, Requiring Employers to Be More Vigilant than Ever
While the intention is to end workplace raids, compliance troubles may just be beginning for employers who carelessly let their guard down. Even those employers who do not intentionally break compliance laws are at a heightened risk if an individual comes forward making allegations that the company has suspect practices in place. Such an accusation will likely increase federal law enforcement’s scrutiny of the company.
Unfortunately, even a company who is found to be innocent of the allegations made against them by an individual may still find themselves vulnerable to common Form I-9 violations, which can result in hefty fines if deemed non-compliant. Violations are issued on a per incidence scale, so it is possible for an employer who consistently left one field on the Form I-9 blank due to simple human error to receive a violation for every Form I-9 it affected.
To avoid the stockpiling of violations from even the simplest of errors, an employer’s best defense may be the way they process and document a Form I-9. One solution to ensure better guide employers is a digital I-9 software, to help facilitate the process and minimize costly errors.
How Digital I-9 Compliance Software Can Help Employers with Compliance
When an employer is struggling with properly completing a Form I-9, it is usually due to one of the following three scenarios:
- Individual completing the form is not properly trained on completing the form
- Staff turnover happens without proper retraining on form completion
- Simple human error due to lack of understanding or omission
Unfortunately, regardless of the reasoning, being found non-compliant is a problem in the eyes of the federal government. The solution for an employer then becomes being more proactive in the usage of tools such as digital I-9 compliance software. Some of the benefits from using this resource can be:
- It better prepares employees for what is expected for form completion. These programs typically feature a printable checklist that can be given to employees so they can plan to have access to all the information that will be needed to complete the I-9 form. Regulations require Section 1 to be completed by the employee on or before the date of hire and Section 2 to be completed by the employer or employee representative within 3 business days of the employee’s date of hire. This rules are strict in the eyes of an auditor.
- The digital I-9 form can be integrated into on-boarding process and natural HR/payroll workflow. Typically the digital I-9 software provides prompts for employers to ensure they also are completing the necessary tasks required of them. This usually looks like built in reminders (including e-mail notices or compliance dashboard) alerting employers of deadlines that must be met for compliance, as well as alerts about missing and/or potentially blank or incomplete fields and missing signatures.
- Reverification of expiring work authorization documents is another critical responsibility and a digital I-9 tool notifies employers of all upcoming expiring documents before the expiration date. Employers who act quickly on these courtesy reminders may be able to avoid them becoming compliance issues.
- Many I-9 software systems also have built-in integration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify web site, allowing completed data from the I-9 form to automatically submit all E-Verify case details for an employer’s new hires. This integration also allows the digital tool to collect and store the E-Verify case number and results on the electronic I-9 form. This feature creates exponential time savings for all employers who participate in the government’s E-Verify program.
- The software offers document archiving. One of the hardest aspects of the Form I-9 for employers to identify which forms to retain and which ones to dispose of after an employee has separated. A digital I-9 compliance software can help with this.
- It facilitates centralized reporting. One of the ways to ensure proficient compliance is to periodically conduct informal but accurate reporting. The reporting feature of the software program can also assist in the case of a government audit.
- The software can be an asset to auditors. With this type of program in place, auditors will have access to the appropriate audit trails needed for investigations.
As worksite immigration raids are expected to taper off it remains a possibility that there could be an increase in audits, a trend that employers should anticipate and prepare for in advance. Auditors embrace employers who create and maintain a proactive compliance mindset which is demonstrated through regular internal audits and taking corrective actions.
Employers with questions or concerns about the change in worksite immigration raids or who need guidance on audit and compliance laws should speak with a reputable professional who has expertise in I-9 regulations to obtain recommendations for protecting their company, both now and in the future.