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HR & Benefits News: Feds Step Up I-9 Audits—Be Ready

Chris Cooley
Chris Cooley

Editor’s note: HR & Benefits News is a monthly column by Chris Cooley, co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors.

It’s The Law
“All U.S. Employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States. This includes citizens and noncitizens.” U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The 68 percent increase in I-9 audits in the past seven months over all of last year has motivated many employers to get their Form I-9 ducks in a row—or face costly fines, restitution and civil penalties.

I-9 forms are used to verify “the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States,” according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

Incorrectly filling out an I-9 form can cost you up to $2,156 per form in penalties. Knowingly hiring an unauthorized employee can cost you up to $4,313 per offense in penalties for the first offense and increase with multiple offenses.

Ensuring employers are not hiring undocumented workers is behind the federal government’s increased scrutiny of I-9s. In fact, I-9 worksite investigations have more than doubled in the last seven months versus all of fiscal 2017. These activities are top priority for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency tasked with enforcement.

ICE Worksite Cases% Increase*
Worksite Investigations

Initiated I-9 Audits

Criminal Arrests

Administrative Work-Site Arrests

105%

68%

327%

255%

*10/1/17 – 5/4/18 versus fiscal year 10/1/16 – 9/30/17

Three ways to get ready now

Here are three actions we’ve suggested our clients take now to avoid costly consequences and ensure their current and future I-9 forms are filled out correctly.

1. Train personnel on how to fill out Form I-9.

Form I-9s can be complicated to fill out. Make sure the people filling these out for you are trained in doing it correctly. The “Handbook for Employers M-274” is one of a variety of third-party training resources available for this purpose. The M-274 guide, created by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is a great training resource. It outlines how to properly fill out, correct and retain a Form I-9.

 2. Purge I-9 forms that are no longer required to be retained.

I-9 forms must be stored for three years after the date you hire an employee or one year after the date the employee’s employment is terminated, whichever is later. Best practice is to purge the I-9 forms that no longer fall under this requirement. Otherwise, you could be fined for errors in these forms identified during an audit.

3. Perform an I-9 form self-audit.

A self-audit is a great way to ensure your I-9 forms are compliant. Have an internal or external person trained in the proper way to fill out I-9 form go through all of the company’s I-9 forms to ensure they are compliant. Examples of steps that should be taken during a self-audit are:

  • Make sure you have an I-9 form for every employee hired after Nov. 6, 1986, that have not met the requirements to be purged as noted above.
  • Corrections to the I-9 form should be made to the original or most recent form. The corrections should be made by drawing a line through the information. You should never use white out or back date an I-9 form when correcting it.
  • If a correction is made, a written explanation of the correction should be attached to the form.
  • Prepare a final report that outlines the results of the audit and recommended procedures to ensure future compliance.

Chris Cooley is co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors. Clients rely on him for ACA compliance, COBRACompli, employee handbooks, HR compliance and administration, workforce management and benefits advisory solutions. Cooley’s companies specialize in helping small to mid-sized grocers throughout the U.S. Chris can be reached at 855-538-6947, ext. 108 or at [email protected].


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