Although every business in the United States is required by federal law to complete Form I-9s for new employees, it is critical for employers to understand why doing Form I-9s incorrectly can be a big problem. Avoiding proper handling of these government forms is not a choice. If these forms are not properly processed and the hiring practices are not correctly handled and an official audit is conducted, it could negatively impact an employer with a host of costly penalties and fines.
Why Doing Form I-9s Incorrectly Can Be a Big Problem
A common misconception is that official audits are only conducted in large businesses or those within certain industries, but this is false. An inspection or audit can be done at any time for any size business by a federal government agency.
When a legitimate audit is performed, the primary areas of focus for auditors will be how an employer verifies an employee’s identification and work authorization documents. This is done, in part, to help safeguard against discrimination and unfair hiring practices.
There are times when an audit may be performed randomly and other times where a concerned or disgruntled employee could report their employer (or previous employer) for suspected discrimination, errant hiring practices, or improper Form I-9 procedure. In cases like these, the Department of Justice may be forced to take the complaint seriously and look further into it.
Should a company be found to be conforming to a pattern of, for example, discriminating against non-U.S. citizens in the hiring process, it may be evident if the employer asks employees to present certain forms of approved identification and work authorization documents.
This is a giant red flag for auditors as while employers are allowed to ask for acceptable forms of identity found on the List of Acceptable Documents for the Form I-9, they are not allowed to specify which of those documents they will take. To do so would essentially be considered a violation of federal law regarding hiring practices.
At the very least, a company will be instructed by the auditing federal agency to modify their hiring practices immediately to current standards. Such a violation can also come with financial penalties that range from minimal to significant. Even if a company is fortunate enough to be assigned a relatively minor fine for this infraction, the company will likely be on the government’s radar for the future. It would not be unusual for a company in this situation to be followed up on to ensure the requested modifications have been made.
Audits may also uncover improper Form I-9 procedure such as common human errors or simple mistakes. Unfortunately, even unintentional errors can still result in violations and are assigned penalties per incidence. Therefore, if a company had ten forms with missing signatures, they could potentially be fined for each of the ten.
Most Common Form I-9 Issues That May Bring About Violations During an Audit
Form I-9 penalties can range from those that are considered civil or criminal and vary in penalty.
In terms of discriminating hiring practices related to the Form I-9, one piece of legislation that should be resolutely observed is the Immigration and Nationality Act, often referred to as the INA. This act does have an anti-discrimination provision that is intended to prevent unlawful practices, such as:
- Utilizing unfair documentation practices
- Employing acts of intimidation or retaliation intended to be discouraging
- Using immigration or citizenship status as a factor for hiring, firing, or recruiting
- Using national origin as a method of discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruiting
The above points are not allowed by federal law to be used in determining whether to hire, fire, or recruit someone.
In terms of common and often unintentional mistakes employers commonly make on the Form I-9, some of the most frequent mistakes include:
- Incomplete or blank fields
- Missing signatures
- Failure to meet hard deadlines for each section of the form
- Failure to address expiring work authorizations before they actually expire
- Improper retention or storage of the forms and related information
- Incorrect reverification process
How Digital I-9 Software Can Help Employers
Form I-9 procedures are an integral part of the hiring process for employers, but it is not always an easy one. With three different sections to complete, all with their own guidelines and deadlines, there is much to remember to stay compliant. In addition, the information for the form must be complete and accurate and without mistakes for the sake of compliancy. This results in added responsibility for employers on top of their other duties.
Fortunately, digital I-9 software is designed to streamline the process and cut down on the incidence of human error in an effort to aid with compliancy. When considering why doing Form I-9s incorrectly can be a big problem, it only makes sense for modern employers to turn to digital I-9 software for reasons such as the following:
- Provides checklists. The program offers a printable checklist for both employees and employers to help them keep track of what information will be needed. It allows employees a written reminder of what data and documents they need to collect and employers of deadlines.
- Gives warnings about common errors. Digital I-9 software is designed to catch incomplete or missing fields before a form is turned in and causes compliance issues.
- Alerts users to approaching deadlines. If a deadline is quickly approaching for a particular section of the form or even for a renewal work authorization, the system will alert the user before it becomes a compliance problem.
- Assists with archiving. One thing that is consistently an issue for employers is when to archive forms. Digital I-9 software will alert employers of what documents need to be kept and which do not.
- Helps prepare for auditing. The software is helpful in providing efficient documentation for government audits and clear audit trails.