While the construction industry is typically more hands on and requires little to no desk time for some workers, it does not make it impervious to official audits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In fact, it is not uncommon for construction businesses to receive a Notice of Inspection (NOI) for a forthcoming audit.
In these cases, auditors typically begin by looking at Form I-9 compliance for every employee the business has employed. Even small mistakes such as incomplete fields or missing signatures can be grounds for a violation, and these violations are issued per Form I-9 or employee, which means penalties can stack up fast without professional I-9 assistance and software.
Compliance Challenges Facing the Construction Industry
By federal law, specifically the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, employers are required to have employees they hire complete a Form I-9 to help confirm an individual’s identity and eligibility for work in the United States. This applies to all businesses in the country, but the construction industry can be at three disadvantages such as the following that make maintaining compliance even more difficult:
- Limited Project-Based Hiring. Many construction teams are hired on a job-by-job basis. This means that an individual that bounces from construction company to construction company looking to pick up work will have to complete a Form I-9 for every company that hires them. This requires employees to have easy and fast access to all personal information and acceptable documentation needed to complete the form each time. Without documentation that is listed as “acceptable” by the Form I-9, the employee will not have proper authorization to work.
- Form I-9s. For construction companies that are constantly hiring new employees for new jobs, it can create a continuous need to complete Form I-9s. The nature of many construction jobs are project based, meaning that once a project concludes, some workers may look elsewhere for work and new workers may apply. This constant turnover can create a never-ending revolving door for Form I-9s, which can quickly become overwhelming for management.
- Smaller Office Team. Since many smaller construction businesses have the majority of their employees out in the field doing hands on work, the office management team is frequently a skeleton crew. While this may help with a company’s overhead, it can make for a nightmare when it comes to hiring compliance. For example, if there is one management position responsible for hiring within the federally dictated guidelines and deadlines and that person is out for a week or more due to unforeseen circumstances, it can leave the company in a bind and potentially more susceptible to compliance issues when critical Form I-9 deadlines are not met.
Fortunately, those businesses in the construction industry are not without help. By enlisting the assistance of I-9 experts who offer digital compliance software, it can ease the disadvantages they face on a daily basis.
What Can Happen If Compliance Is Not a Focus for Construction Companies
Some construction companies erroneously believe they are too small to be on the federal government’s radar or that they will not be held to the same hiring standards as larger corporations. This is a common and potentially costly misunderstanding.
Federal hiring protocols have been made law and are not a suggestion. Any disregard for the process can result in serious consequences and punitive fines. Perhaps even more alarming for construction companies is that an error such as an incomplete or missing field or a missed deadline that is repetitive and affects multiple Form I-9s, will be considered a violation every time it occurs. Therefore, if a company is routinely late in meeting the deadline for completion of Section 2 of the Form I-9, every incidence of a missed deadline becomes a compliance issue in an official audit.
Not all compliance issues facing employers are paperwork based. Should a company knowingly hire or continuously hire unauthorized workers, it can be quite serious. Also in this category can be the discovery of falsified or fraudulent documents. If it can be proven that a company knowingly did these things, it shows a flagrant disregard for federal law and consequences will match the seriousness of the violation.
From civil violations to criminal violations, each can come with punitive measures of hundreds to thousands of dollars that are issued per occurrence of the violation. Should a company be hit with multiple serious violations, it could come with penalties greater than the funds they have available.
Helpful Compliance Resources for the Construction Industry
One of the most effective things a company within the construction industry can do is to enlist the help of I-9 intelligence experts who also offer additional tools such as digital compliance software. By working together, those individuals responsible for company hires should find the process to be more streamlined and proactive in nature, which can minimize unnecessary compliance issues.
These resources can be particularly helpful to those companies who have a skeleton office team and rely on only one or two individuals to manage new hires. Several of the benefits of working with digital compliance software created by I-9 experts can be:
- Making the process more user friendly. Even additional resources are rarely helpful if they are not user friendly. This software is designed to make the onboarding process easier for both employee and employer.
- Providing printable checklists. To help set the expectations, the system offers a printout of both employee and employer checklists to help each stay on task and keep up with federal guidelines and deadlines for all sections of the Form I-9.
- Alerting users to errors before form submittal. The program can alert employers of basic and common errors such as incomplete or blank fields before the form is submitted and yields a compliance issue.
- Alerting users about document expirations. Digital I-9 software can review what documents have upcoming expirations and let employers know in advance so they can begin the reverification process before it becomes a compliance problem.
- Assisting with documentation. For many employers, knowing what a form-approved document should look like is a problem. However, the software should give employers examples of how an acceptable document will look, which can in turn increase their confidence in the authenticity of documents they are presented with.
The construction industry has unique challenges when it comes to Form I-9 compliance, but working with professionals in I-9 intelligence and digital software can make all the difference for employers.