I-9 Cautionary Tale

If you like to rant and rave about the lack of government enforcement actions to stem the tide of illegal immigration, remember that you as an employer are primarily responsible for making illegal immigration unattractive by requiring every employee to demonstrate his eligibility to work in the United States. This is done by requiring every new hire to fill out an I-9 employment eligibility form within the first three days of employment. No documentation: no job.

What happens if your company is not diligent about filling out the I-9 forms completely and correctly or if your company just turns a blind eye towards an employee’s questionable legality? Ask Republic Services, Inc. in Houston. The waste management firm recently cooperated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and paid $1 million to the national treasury to avoid criminal prosecution for sloppy I-9 practices that led to hiring undocumented workers to make up 25% of its workforce. The federal government was not impressed with any excuses that Republic made.

What could you do differently to avoid such an outcome in your company? These are the changes that ICE required Republic to make and that you could be making right now:

  • Terminate any employee whom you know is undocumented.
  • Give others whose documentation is questionable a reasonable period to provide unexpired or otherwise genuine documents. If good documents aren’t provided, terminate that employee’s job.
  • Hire and train well one or two centralized human resources people to complete all I-9s and to verify that the documentation presented appears genuine.
  • Provide training for all supervisors or other employees with input into hiring to make sure they know the rules and don’t try to skirt them.
  • Implement payroll software that includes I-9 compliance measures, such as advance notification when an employee’s documentation is about to expire.
  • Keep copies of all eligibility documents presented by your employees, all letters you write about expired documents, and all of your efforts to keep employees in compliance.

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