Would your Business Survive an I-9 Audit?

Would your business survive an I-9 audit? If you have a staff of any size, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can actually audit your business at any time, in most cases you’ll only have three days to prepare for the audit once you receive a Notice of Intent (NOI) from the authority. There are no size limitations to audits and the agency has made a habit of surprise inspections in recent years; in 2013 alone over 3,000 employers were inspected, and fines levied reached a high of 15 million dollars that same year.

What can you do to survive an audit? Knowing about and avoiding the most common I-9 errors, engaging an HR expert to ensure that you are in compliance and maintaining correct and complete records will help your business survive a tough encounter with ICE authorities.

Common I-9 Mistakes

Missing or incorrectly completed forms: Simply neglecting to have and I-9 form on file for each employee is a violation, but incomplete or incorrectly completed forms will count against you as well. Self-audit and make sure that you have a complete and correct form for every employee.

Reverification errors: If you hire people who are on the path to citizenship their status may change several times over the course of their time with you. Each change in status needs to be documented with an updated I-9 form; this process is easily overlooked as most I-9s are completed at the time of hire and then never regarded again – unless they are needed for an ICE audit.
Outdated forms: As an employer, you are required to destroy outdated forms from previous workers, usually one year after termination. There is a calculation on how long to keep an employee’s I-9 Form. Failure to do so could cost you during an audit since you’ll be fined for each outdated form you have held on to.

The Undocumented Worker Myth

At first glance, an I-9 audit may seem to be simply for immigration purposes, but undocumented workers actually make up only a small amount of the fees and fines employers face during an I-9 audit. Some employers incorrectly assume that if they do not hire undocumented workers, then they have no audit risk; this is a costly error to make. Incorrect or missing forms for US citizen are far more likely to cost you money during an audit, and these errors are often overlooked by even the most diligent staffer prior to an audit.

Preventing I-9 Errors

  • Make sure all new hires complete section one of the I-9 fully and accurately. Errors made by the employee at this point will cost you money if you are audited.
  • Newly hired employees must complete and sign Section 1 of Form I-9 no later than the first day of employment and not before they have accepted the job. By the third day on the job, the employer should be able to fully complete the second section of the I-9. The employee is required to use page 9 of the Form I-9 for acceptable documentation. Employers CANNOT request a specific form of identification this would be a violation.
  • It is a good business practice to keep your I-9 files in a separate location, and not in the employee files. The information on I-9s is considered protected information. Also, if you receive a notice of inspection, you’ll be able to quickly find and verify your records without wading through dozens or hundreds of files.

Correctly completing forms at the point of hire is just the first step. To avoid the massive time loss and overwhelming fees and fines, you need to regularly update and audit your I-9 files. Changes in employment status, terminations, changes in citizenship status and even changes to the I-9 documentation needs to be regularly updated to ensure compliance, for new employees. Keep in mind, if the Form I-9 changes, this does not mean you need new form for all employees, only when updating expiration dates for employment authorization are due. You DO NOT have to re-verify a citizen of the United States or a lawful permanent resident.

If you have employees, you have a potential I-9 audit in the making. Protect yourself, your investment, and your business by regularly auditing your files and by using an outside HR specialist to ensure that your information is accurate and up to date – and audit ready, just in case. If you are concerned about your I-9 records and worried about your audit risk, our HR experts are here to help. Contact us for immediate assistance or follow our blog for the latest in I-9 compliance and audit news.

Would you survive an 1-9 Audit? Call and speak with one of our experts today at 702-878-6191, or schedule an appointment here.
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