by Chelsey Lucas
EMPLOYERS IN EVERY industry have been caught off guard and paid stiff penalties since the INS expanded the reporting requirements for Form I-9. The form is part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act used to verify employment eligibility and/or authorization of newly hired employees. Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick employment attorney Jennifer Roeper says that employers understandably are confused about the necessary reporting, which can lead to fines of $110 to $1,110 per violation.
Failure to complete the form on a timely basis (before the first day or up to the third day of employment) and failure to secure the right kind or amount of documents can result in fines. These fines are subject to all kinds of quirky rules, like a 25 percent decrease for patterns of good behavior, like timeliness in authorizing an employee, or a 25 percent increase for bad behavior such as over documentation—yes, you can be penalized by supplying too much documentation. Moreover, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) auditor may pursue criminal penalties.
So what can employers do?
Roeper supports E-verify, a voluntary program available at uscis.gov/e-verify that allows employers to quickly assess an employee’s work authorization. Participation counts as a “good pattern” in accurate reporting.
Plan ahead, she says. Meet with an immigration lawyer, have two sets of eyes review the material and keep the I-9 separate from personnel files, as ICE may misinterpret this system of filing as over documentation. You have 72 hours to prepare the information once an ICE auditor visits. “It’s a scramble; you won’t sleep,” she says, so be ready ahead of time.
Roeper’s law firm offers free I-9 training. “Companies aren’t realizing that this is a huge responsibility in the hiring process,” she says. Employers can find a checklist to help fill out these forms at i-9employmenteligibility.com/internal_audit.html.