Federal law requires that all U.S. businesses complete Form I-9s to confirm the identity of an employee as well as verify their authorization to work, and this includes companies in the healthcare industry such as hospitals, surgical centers, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and more. These institutions are generally fast paced with work that can frequently be a matter of life and death.
Amongst such pressures, it can be tempting to push Form I-9 hiring protocols to the back burner. But this mistake is a costly one that could potentially result in heavy punitive fines per compliance violation. If a violation is made in the processing of multiple employees’ forms, it could affect the institution’s bottom line and eventually their ability to operate at optimum capacity for saving lives.
Compliance Challenges for Healthcare Companies
The healthcare industry is held to the same level of accountability in completing Forms I-9 as any other United States business. However, healthcare companies can have some compliance challenges that are more unique to their industry, such as:
- Number of employees. Hospitals tend to have a large number of employees in a variety of different positions, including surgeons, doctors, nurses, technicians, transporters, janitors and many more. The average hospital may have thousands of employees, with smaller hospitals having less and larger ones having more. When a new hospital opens, it requires mass hiring of staff in a relatively short period of time which means that I-9 forms will need to be processed quickly.
- Turnover. Turnover in healthcare has trended higher than normal in a post COVID-19 pandemic world. Some say this is due in large part to the persistent crisis level amongst healthcare providers that are treating COVID-19 and the flu as well as a resurgence of other respiratory and viral illnesses on an ongoing basis. The overwhelming workload is causing some employees to experience burn out and leave the industry, which in turn opens the door for the hiring of new personnel.
- Authorization expirations. For those individuals who have work authorizations that come with specific expiration dates, that information must be renewed before it expires. Failure to do so can result in a compliance violation. One of the biggest problems for healthcare institutions can be keeping track of authorization expirations of hundreds of employees and resolving them before they become an obstacle to compliance.
The Risks of Healthcare Institutions Not Being Compliant
Although hospitals, urgent cares, emergency rooms, and other healthcare institutions are in the business of treating sick or hurting people and saving lives, they are still businesses and must be run as such. The federal government does not give free passes when it comes to compliance violations, even if that business is altruistic.
Should a healthcare agency be officially audited by the federal government, their Form I-9 process will be under the microscope to ensure they are operating in accordance with protocol. Some of the things officials may look for in an audit can include:
- Incomplete forms featuring unfinished fields or missing signatures
- Form I-9 sections that were not completed by the deadline
- Expired work authorizations that have not been renewed
- Correct storage or retainment of completed Form I-9s
A violation is a violation and can come with penalties, but if it is thought to be done knowingly or is a repetitive offense, it can make the consequences more severe. According to the Department of Homeland Security, paperwork violations fines found in 2023 can range anywhere from $272 to $2,701 per incident.
This number can go up significantly if an employer is thought to be recruiting, hiring, retaining, or referring individuals who are unauthorized to work. Penalties for such actions in 2023 can start at $676 for a first-time offense and go all the way up to a whopping $27,108 for a third offense. And again, these fines can be assigned per violation. Should an employer receive a maximum penalty for a third offense for just four employees, it could result in a $108,432 fine.
One of the simplest ways to avoid having violations and the associated fines is for a healthcare organization to invest time in educating and training human resources staff on proper hiring protocol for the Form I-9.
I-9 Compliance Resources for the Healthcare Industry
Training the human resources department of a healthcare organization on hiring protocol is an investment of time that can potentially reduce compliance issues. However, in an industry that experiences high turnover rates, training for staff will need to be conducted routinely to help close the gap of inexperience among any new personnel in charge of processing Form I-9s.
While U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offer the Handbook for Employer’s M-274 in a PDF and printed version, this resource is a comprehensive one and can take some time to sift through. This can be a valuable resource for those in charge of hiring, but many modern healthcare companies are looking for a tool that is more proactive and in real time.
For this reason, digital I-9 compliance software is quickly becoming the resource of choice for these organizations. The ability to streamline the hiring process as well as achieve and/or maintain compliance is an attractive one.
One of the primary perks of this type of software is that it is user-friendly. This can help human resources onboard employees more quickly and efficiently. The program is designed to alert employers of possible errors such as incomplete fields or missing signatures before a form is officially submitted. This in turn can help reduce compliance issues that are a result of human error.
Digital I-9 software should also have the capability to give employers valuable examples of how an acceptable identification document should look so they can have more confidence in the authenticity of a document an employee presents them with.
Yet, perhaps the biggest asset of the software is its ability to provide the employer with timely alerts that are geared toward tracking approaching deadlines before they become a problem for compliance.
If your company is in the healthcare industry, have more confidence in your hiring process by partnering today with an I-9 intelligence company that offers digital I-9 software.