Headlines about immigration dominate the news, and the debate is putting a spotlight on this hot button issue, directly affecting domestic businesses. In recent years, worksite investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are estimated to have almost quadrupled. With statistics like these, businesses across the nation are mobilizing efforts to become more proactive in being Form I-9 compliant so they are dutifully prepared in the event of an ICE audit.

Being I-9 compliant is the law and has been since the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. If a company is not I-9 compliant, it is not following the law and can be subject to several penalties for each violation. Some severe penalties can lead to hefty fines and a partial loss of workforce. With a solid understanding of what it means to be I-9 compliant and then implementing the proper steps, companies can be better prepared for a potential audit.

What is the Form I-9?

The Form I-9 is a one-page legal document that the United States government requires employees and their employers to complete, maintain, and follow up when necessary. There are three main sections of the Form I-9, all of which have specific deadlines that must be met in order to be in compliance.

  1. The first section of the Form I-9 must be completed by an employee with accurate information that along with his/her attestation that the information is truthful. Employees are required to complete this part of the form by their first day of employment.
  2. Section two of this form is for the employer to review and verify an employee’s required I-9 documents. This section must be completed within three business days of an employee’s first day on the job. Employers must inspect documentation to ensure that it appears to be real, in the original form, and belonging to the employee presenting it.
  3. The last section of the form deals primarily with rehires and reverification. Section three can be used if an employee is rehired within three years of the original date listed on the Form I-9, if any employee’s work authorization expires or for a legal name change. Alternatively, a new I-9 form can be completed.

How Noncompliance Can Reduce a Workforce

If a company is found not to be compliant with one or more I-9 forms, it can result in fines and a reduction in its workforce. In some cases, the consequence of being found noncompliant can result in serious criminal and civil violations.

Criminal violations are typically issued to companies with a documented pattern of conducting fee-based hiring, recruiting, or referring of employees that are not eligible to work in the U.S.  Civil violations may be issued to companies that are noncompliant by hiring or continuing to employ an unauthorized alien, committing document fraud or abuse, discrimination, failure to notify authorities of follow-up confirmation of an employee’s eligibility, and more.

Unfortunately, criminal and civil violations can result in hefty penalties that are generally assigned on a case by case basis. If a number of violations are found, the number of penalties can stack up rapidly and result in substantial damage to a company’s bottom line.

Some violations and penalties due to noncompliance can indirectly affect a company’s profit margin if part of its workforce must legally be dismissed. For example, if ICE were to conduct an audit or raid for a national restaurant chain and find potentially fraudulent records, the company in question will likely have a specified time period in which it can ask employees to provide valid information that proves eligibility to work in the U.S.  Employees that do so may be able to save their jobs. Employees that cannot will likely face immediate termination. In addition to any criminal or civil violations that may be issued to the company, it could now be short-handed which may also cause temporary closure of the business and ultimately a loss of profit.

For most companies, it is one thing to envision paying fines and something altogether different when they consider the fact that they could lose part of their workforce all at one time, leaving them understaffed and ill equipped to handle a typical workday.

To avoid these troublesome scenarios, companies should be diligent with their Form I-9 processes and in doing everything they can to be compliant before an audit actually takes place.

How Digital I-9 Compliant Software Can Help

Making the I-9 process efficient can be tricky since it involves both the individual employee’s and the employer’s detailed attention. To further complicate the matter, the one-page Form I-9 can be fairly complex and require additional resources such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Handbook for Employers M-274. Some companies also elect to enlist the help of digital I-9 compliancy software for an added measure of peace of mind.

Solid digital I-9 compliance software should be user-friendly and intuitive. While software programs may differ slightly, most should provide services such as:

  • Software programs should provide a preview checklist of sorts that help employees understand in advance what information will be required of them. These lists can also help employers to keep track of any action items that may still need attention.
  • Streamlined Operations. With so much riding on the complete and accurate information of a Form I-9, software should help minimize human error that could result in a substantial penalty.  This may include prompting employers to take notice of blank fields, missing signatures, typos, and more.
  • Whether it is for completing section one of the Form I-9, supplying required documents, or following up on an expired document, software programs will prompt employers to be proactive regarding potentially problematic areas. This allows the employer to take action before it becomes an issue of noncompliance.
  • Document Archiving. Keeping track of which documents have to be retained, and which do not, can be a time intensive process. Software programs can help with reminders for action items and may also allow for companies to digitize documents to attach electronically for maximum convenience.
  • Centralized Reporting. Knowing where a company stands when it comes to being I-9 compliant is crucial. For those that keep manual records, gathering the proper information and conducting their own informal audit can take time. Software programs can help by providing reports and documents in an efficient manner for both management checks and audit purposes.
  • Peace of Mind. The extra set of virtual eyes that a software program provides often gives companies peace of mind, whether or not an audit takes place. A solid software program that evaluates the completion of work throughout the process helps companies to have more confidence in their Form I-9 processes.

Educate your company and human resources department on what it takes to be Form I-9 compliant, why it is important, how it can protect the company’s assets, and how digital I-9 compliancy software can help. By taking these steps, a company can be proactive and prepared for a worksite investigation or an ICE audit.