In today’s world, conscientious employers are already paying close attention to how to be compliant with Form I-9 guidelines, but the success of their efforts is more important than ever with fines for I-9 violations increasing. In October 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made an annual inflation adjustment for non-compliance penalties.
In an already struggling economy impacting a business’ profit margins, this change is something employers should be aware of, and it ought to ultimately spur them on to be even more diligent in their efforts to be compliant lest it cost them.
Fines for I-9 Violations Increasing
The announcement made by the Department of Homeland Security indicated an increase in penalties due to inflation, but the details of the hike in penalties are something every employer should know. These changes occur in the primary areas of:
- Civil paperwork violation penalties
- Civil penalties regarding the hiring, recruiting, referral, or retention of unauthorized aliens
In terms of civil paperwork violation penalties, each violation generally falls between a minimum and maximum penalty amount. For instance:
- In 2020, the minimum penalty was $234 and as of October 18, 2021, that dollar amount has risen to $237, an increase of three dollars.
- In keeping with the dates just mentioned, the previous maximum penalty was $2,332 and is now currently $2,360, a difference of twenty-eight dollars.
In terms of civil penalties regarding the hiring, recruiting, referral, or retention of unauthorized aliens, there are changes in the minimum and maximum penalties for first, second, third (and additional) offenses:
- First offense. Minimum penalties for first offenses in 2020 were $583 and have risen to $590 (an increase of seven dollars) as of October 18, 2021. In keeping with these same dates, the maximum penalty for a first offense rose from $4,667 to $4,722 (an increase of fifty-five dollars.)
- Second offense. Minimum penalties for second offenses rose fifty-five dollars from $4,667 to $4,722. Maximum penalties increased by one hundred thirty-eight dollars from $11,665 to $11,803.
- Third offense. Penalties for third or subsequent offenses perhaps saw the largest increases of all. Minimum penalties rose from $6,999 to $7,082 (an increase of eighty-three dollars. Maximum penalties grew at a steeper rate from $23,331 to $23,607(an increase of two hundred seventy-six dollars.)
It is worth noting that these civil penalty fines are awarded per violation, meaning that if an employer is found to have multiple violations, the number of fines will be multiplied as well.
Common Form I-9 Mistakes That Could Lead to Civil Paperwork Violations
Some of the top Form I-9 mistakes that could potentially lead to civil paperwork violations include:
- Missing I-9s for active and/or recently separated employees that are included in population where a Form I-9 legally must be retained.
- Incomplete or empty fields. For a Form I-9 to be valid, it must have all required fields completed. Even a small mistake such as the last part of a phone number that is left off or accidentally skipping a field like the name of the state could result in a compliance issue.
- Missing signatures. A signature is required by both the employee and employer on the form indicating that they have seen and completed the document as instructed. Should one of these signatures be missing it may lead to a violation penalty.
- Not completing each section in its entirety. There are three main sections on the Form I-9. The first section is primarily for the employee to complete while the other two pertain mostly to the employer. Each of these sections must be completed in their entirety for the form to be considered valid.
- Recording information incorrectly. Another common mistake is recording information incorrectly. Transposing two numbers is enough to cause a major problem and may lead to noncompliance and related violations.
- Making corrections to the form without initialing and dating the changes. This may be the most frequently made error when it comes to the Form I-9. Any changes or corrections to the form must be properly initialed and dated. This is necessary, and if missing will be a red flag for auditors.
- Missing Section 3 for employees who have expired work authorization documents previously noted in Section 1 or 2 of the employeed form.
5 Ways to Help Safeguard Against Civil Paperwork Violations
While tasking employers with being even more diligent in their Form I-9 hiring practices can be an added responsibility, there are resources employers can consult and use to streamline the process.
- Ensure those administering the Form I-9 have proper training. While handbooks and written guides can be helpful resources, the ability to be effective depends on the individual reading them and implementing lessons learned. It is recommended to supplement these efforts with in-person training that allows practice sessions as well as a time for questions and answers. The more equipped a person is to administer the Form I-9, the more successful the process tends to be.
- Train staff regularly on the process. Staff turnover is a way of life for many companies. In many cases a new hire can learn the ropes best by jumping right in. This is not the case when it comes to Form I-9 administration and compliance. Be sure to offer periodic training sessions to staff throughout the year. This is ideal for refreshing those employees who are already familiar with the process, as well as training employees that are new to it.
- Use digital I-9 compliance software. The primary objective in using digital I-9 compliance software is to assist with minimizing compliance risks. These programs are designed to alert users of incomplete or blank fields, notify them of upcoming deadlines, and provide centralized reporting.
- Run periodic in-house audits. It is wise for companies to be proactive when it comes to Form I-9 compliance. Instead of waiting for the results of an official audit, those employers who have access to a digital I-9 software can run an unofficial audit on their own to see what, if any, issues they might be facing if an official audit were to go into effect.
- Stay up to date on changes. From time to time there may be changes such as fines for I-9 violations increasing. It is imperative that employers keep abreast of any notifications regarding these modifications as not doing so could ultimately negatively impact their compliance and bottom line.
Fines for I-9 violations are increasing, and this recent change is something employers should take note of and let it serve as a critical reminder of the financial importance of being Form I-9 compliant.