To many employers and HR professionals, an I-9 form may appear to be a simple one-page piece of hiring paperwork. However, the one page I-9 form comes with enough rules and regulations to fill a 69-page how-to manual, the M-274 Handbook for Employers.
There are many common mistakes and human errors that can be made while completing and maintaining I-9 records. If an employer fails to complete or maintain I-9 documentation correctly, that employer may fall out of compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rules and suffer harsh financial penalties.
Fines for I-9 errors begin at $110 dollars per error and climb to tens of thousands of dollars per error for repeat and grave offenses. If an employer has one form per employee and multiple mistakes on each form, the financial penalties could quickly escalate into six and seven figures.
For example, a well-known clothing retailer recently reached a settlement with ICE regarding I-9 documentation violations discovered during a 2008 audit. The company will pay more than $1 million dollars in fines and must cooperate with federal authorities by modifying its electronic I-9 management systems.
In addition to the steep fines and system upgrades, it is likely that the company incurred additional expenses including legal costs and the added time for its employees to respond to the audit.
To avoid the potentially high costs of an I-9 violation, employers should keep these six common I-9 processing errors in mind:
1. Incorrect or Missing Forms
Common I-9 documentation mistakes include, but are not limited to, incorrect dates, missing signatures, transposed information and incomplete check boxes. It is also possible for an employer to fail to complete an I-9 form altogether or misplace a completed form during filing.
Another challenge facing employers is to record the correct document codes for each identification method. These codes are similar to a routing number on a personal check and appear as strings of embedded numbers in different locations on different forms of identification. If an employer asks for too many identifying documents from list A or lists B and C, that could expose the employer to discrimination allegations. Asking for too few documents could result in an incomplete form violation.
2. Out of Compliance with the Three-Day Rule
ICE rules stipulate that I-9 forms must be completed within three business days of the employee’s first day of work. This means that the employee must complete section one of the form, provide identification documents and have those documents verified by the employer, all within three business days.
Sometimes a new employee will forget to bring documentation within three days of hire. For companies with multiple locations, it may be challenging to get all forms and documents complete and verified and then send them on to a separate corporate location. If an employer fails to meet the three-day deadline, it could result in hefty fines
3. Failure to Re-verify
For employees of certain citizenship statuses, employers will need to track and update the employee’s supporting I-9 documentation. For example, at the time of hire, a work-authorized alien will provide documentation showing their eligibility to work in the United States. This supporting documentation includes an expiration date and it is the employer’s responsibility to monitor that date and request new documentation prior to expiration.
It is extremely time-consuming to manually track the expiration dates for supporting documentation and remind workers to provide updated documents in a timely fashion. Even with complicated spreadsheets and filing systems, there is still room for human error on the employer and employee side. Employees can easily slip through the cracks unverified and cause the company to be out of compliance.
4. Invalid Identifying Documents
In the flutter of activity during hiring, it can be difficult for hiring managers to check that all necessary documents are presented and valid. If an employer fails to obtain the right combination of identifying documents from lists A or lists B and C, then the I-9 documentation will be considered incomplete and the employer becomes subject to fines.
It is a common mistake for hiring managers to request too many or too few documents, which may result in discrimination suits or I-9 violations respectively. Many forms of identification on the lists also have expiration dates, and if an employer fails to obtain current identification, that can also put them out of compliance.
5. Improper Document Maintenance
ICE rules do not require employers to maintain I-9 forms either one year after the date of termination, or three years after the date of hire, whichever is greater. Purging outdated I-9 forms can help businesses to free up storage space and also helps to protect the sensitive information of previous employees. If an employer fails to destroy I-9 forms within the outlined time frame, then that employer will be subject to fines.
Furthermore, if an employer is audited and has not destroyed outdated I-9 documentation, any errors found on those outdated forms will also be subject to fines. It becomes a challenge for many businesses to track hire dates against termination dates and then take on the laborious process of calling up old I-9 documents to be individually destroyed.
6. Lack of Supporting Documentation for E-verify Photo Matching
In 2010, E-Verify introduced photo matching as a way to prevent employees from using false identifying documents. For passports, passport cards, permanent resident cards and employee authorization cards the E-verify system will require employers to compare the document photo with an onscreen photo as an additional security measure.
ICE also mandates that employers maintain a copy of the employee’s photo identification as a supporting I-9 document. Since E-verify photo matching is a new measure, it is likely that a majority of affected employers are not aware of the additional requirement to keep a copy of the photo identification on file. Any employer who fails to maintain a copy of identification as a supporting document will be in violation and subject to fines.
In order to assist with your I-9 compliance responsibilities and avoid potentially hefty fines, employers should consider these six common I-9 documentation mistakes. Even with a good system of checks and balances in place, it is still possible for hiring managers to make these common errors.
One solution for employers to better meet I-9 compliance requirements and avoid common documentation errors is to leverage an electronic I-9 solution.
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