I-9 Compliance & You: What Companies Need to Know

    February 6, 2023

    Whether your team is ramping quickly to meet demand, or hiring for the long-term, placing staff to meet your changing production needs can be a challenge. Aside from finding the right talent, ensuring and documenting that they’re legally authorized to work in the U.S. is a secondary challenge that – despite steep penalties for non-compliance – are too often overlooked for the sake of speed to placement.

    But despite the challenges in verifying documentation, employers need to take special care in ensuring they’re in compliance to avoid penalty and legal action. 

    Why does I-9 documentation matter to my business?

    Employment eligibility verification through Form I-9 is the law under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, requiring that:

    • Employers must not knowingly hire undocumented workers or continue to employ them after learning of their undocumented status.
    • Employers must verify employment eligibility through Form I-9. This requirement applies to every employee, full- and part-time, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

    This applies to all U.S. businesses, who must obtain and maintain accurate employee proof of identity and authorization to work in the U.S. from all new hires and rehires through completion of Form I-9.

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    Are there penalties for I-9 violations?

    Yes – and they’re more common than you may think. In fact, U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) collected $14.3 million in fines, penalties, and forfeitures in 2019 alone. Failing to properly document employee I-9s can result in serious consequences for employers, including: hefty fines, civil penalties, or even criminal charges.

    In 2022, I-9 paperwork violation penalties ranged from $252 to more than $5,000 for a first offense (depending on severity and scale); second offense fines are much steeper, costing employers up to $25,000.

    What steps can my company take to comply with I-9 requirements?

    While employers are not required to be detectives, the ownness falls on them to do their due diligence in collecting, verifying, and maintaining accurate documents. And while it’s clear that an employer cannot knowingly employ an unauthorized worker, turning a blind eye is also considered an offense in the eyes of the law.

    So, how can your company take steps to ensure it’s meeting employment eligibility verification obligations? Here are some pointers:

    • Ensure your HR team requires I-9 documentation in employee onboarding for all new hires and rehires – regardless of temporary, part-time, full-time, etc. status. The onboarding process is an ideal time to complete this, before it’s forgotten. Note: While all employees must have an I-9 on file, exceptions apply for staff hired before November 7, 1986 (before IRCA was signed into law).
    • Consider using E-Verify to automatically compare I-9 information against government database records for faster, dependable verification.
    • For paper/hard copy forms, ensure you’re using the most current I-9 form from the S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. All sections of a submitted form must be filled completely, signed, and dated.
    • When verifying identity, only accept original documents that appear genuine and belonging to the worker presenting them. Do not accept photocopies of documents.
    • Only accept current, non-expired documents.
    • Working with a staffing partner? It’s important to understand their verification processes. Staff placed in your business – even if through a staffing firm – are the responsibility of the company who employs them. If a third-party staffing partner isn’t doing their due diligence, you can be liable.
    • Conduct regular internal I-9 audits and correct mistakes appropriately. ICE provides guidance on this process on their website.


    What if my company is out of I-9 compliance?

    If your company is knowingly out of compliance, it’s time to act. Depending on the severity and scale of your unique situation, a number of steps that can be taken. If an audit reveals errors, improper documentation, or missing information, ICE offers direction on how to make it right legally.

    Widespread compliance issues can be intimidating. Kelly – a trusted staffing partner for more than 75 years – has partnered with a number of companies needing help getting I-9 compliance back on track. If this is you, let’s talk. Reach out to get the conversation started.



    Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

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