In all of the talk about immigration in this election year, it is important for businesses to understand that the responsibility for preventing illegal immigration generally rests on employers, who must verify that all new hires are eligible to work in this country.
Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), employers are mandated to verify an employee’s identity and eligibility to work in the United States by completing an Employment Eligibility Verification, more commonly known as a Form I-9.
The current version of the I-9 (available here) says on the form that it expired on March 31, 2016, but it is still in effect three months later because a newer version has not been released.
Every employer, regardless of the size of the business, must present the latest version of the Form I-9 to each prospective employee and confirm that employee completes and signs the employee section of the form. The employer is required to inspect the employee’s supporting documents and have an authorized individual from the Company sign the employer section of the I-9. All of these items must be completed within three (3) business days of the employee’s hire date.
An employer’s failure to properly complete the Form I-9 can bring about costly fines by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As recently as April 2016, a judge ruled that Golden Employment Company in Minnesota was liable for failure to timely present I-9 forms for at least 125 employees as well as not preparing forms in any capacity for almost 236 workers. The employer also inaccurately completed some of the I-9s. The civil penalties totaled $209,600.
Most ICE inspections result from complaints from current employees, former employees, labor unions and even competitors. However, random inspections are also undertaken by ICE. It’s important to make sure all of your work eligibility records are up-to-date and properly completed.
What can you do to avoid penalties and ensure I-9 compliance?
- Have one well-trained person be responsible for I-9 compliance and be sure he/she understands the process.
- Complete I-9s on all new hires regardless of citizenship or immigration status.
- Assess I-9 compliance at satellite or remote worksites regularly and in-person by going through the personnel files at those locations.
- Proactively review and update as necessary the status of your I-9 compliance forms already on file.
- Be ready in the event of an ICE inspection. Generally, you will receive three-days advance notice of an inspection, so being prepared in advance is crucial.