Employers across the nation are required to have employees complete a Form I-9 to prove their identity and eligibility to work in the United States thanks to federal law. However, it is not uncommon for some employers to mistakenly think they can slide under the radar either without being audited or investigated. Unfortunately, that is not the case. No one is above Form I-9 compliance.
Most employers do one of two things in their response to the 1986 Immigration and Reform Control Act:
- Follow protocol to ensure compliance as mandated by law.
- Ignore protocol and hope they won’t be subjected to an audit or investigation.
Ultimately employers must choose which path they will take, but only one leads to compliance mandated by federal law, stability of the business, and the peace of mind that can come with it.
No One Is Above Form I-9 Compliance
Those that think they might be able to escape the long arm of the law should think again. Just recently Elon Musk’s Space X came under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for allegations by a job applicant that the company may have discriminated against hiring him for his citizenship status.
Only time will tell how this case will play out for Elon Musk’s Space X, but regardless employers need to be sitting up and taking notice. Rather than being randomly audited, the investigation is likely tied to the allegations made by a potential employee who did not receive a job offer.
In other words, an investigation is not always random. Sometimes it can be triggered from within the walls of your own business.
Common Triggers for an I-9 Investigation
Many employers incorrectly assume that audits are only random. While some investigations are the product of random selection, others may be triggered by situations such as:
- Notification of authorities by a prospective, current, or former employee
- Participation in the construction, food production, or landscaping industries
- Involvement with industries related to government infrastructure or transportation
The key take away is that if the federal government receives a complaint or allegation that your business may not be following Form I-9 protocol, it may lead to an audit or investigation. Even if the allegation is untrue, which will probably be uncovered during the investigation, if during that process there are some common Form I-9 mistakes also found, it can lead to an accumulation of violations which may result in serious consequences such as:
- punitive fines
- full or partial loss of workforce
- a business losing their license
While a single violation may not be enough to ruin a business, multiple violations might. This is a gamble employers cannot afford to take. It is better to follow protocol to the letter and have your ducks in a row should an investigation become a reality.
Five Steps Employers Can Take Toward Compliance
There are some steps employers can take moving forward to help ensure a higher degree of compliance. Five steps employers can take toward compliance are:
- Get organized. Know where all of your I-9 forms are kept and make sure they are filed appropriately. Refer to the verbiage on the form itself to be clear on the guidelines and rules for which forms should be filed and which should be destroyed.
- Review I-9 Forms for common mistakes. Even unintentional mistakes can be grounds for not being compliant. Some of the most frequent errors typically include blank or incomplete fields or even missing signatures.
- Double check form deadlines. The Form I-9 has three main sections, and each has its own set of rules and deadlines. You can be found non-compliant if you have not met the deadlines set forth.
- Stay on top of expirations. It is not uncommon for an employee’s citizenship status to expire. In this case, the employer is responsible for getting proof of eligibility before the employee’s citizenship status expires.
- Train staff. One the areas most often responsible for an issue with I-9 protocol can be traced back to improper training. Ensure that the staff you have handling the forms understands what proper protocol is and how to best follow it.
What to Do When Achieving Compliance Takes More Time Than You Have
When sitting down to devise a plan to cover all of the above steps, many employers come to the realization that their current method for completing I-9 forms is more time consuming and staff intensive than what they can accommodate. This can be remedied by enlisting the help of digital compliance software.
Some of the ways that digital software can ease the burden of compliance on employers can include:
- Digitizing the form. This can cut down on the amount of paperwork laying around the office.
- Minimization of errors. The program is designed to help catch common human error such as fields that are left blank or incomplete.
- Alerts regarding deadlines. Digital compliance software can also prompt employers to note upcoming deadlines related to the form I-9 so that they do not go unnoticed.
- Alerts regarding expirations. Some documents required for the Form I-9 have expiration dates. The software is designed to help alert employers of expirations before they happen.
In addition, digital compliance software is set up to provide centralized reporting so employers can view their compliance status at any time, and it can also facilitate the process amidst an audit.