Our Guide to Reviewing I-9 Forms for Compliance

Ready to hire employees for your business? If so, you’ll need to know and understand what the I-9 form is. Mandated by the Immigration Form and Control Act of 1986, proper completion of the I-9 document is required for every employee within an organization.

Failure to complete the I-9 documents will almost certainly land you in hot water. Hefty fines and even prosecution could be on the cards if you don’t comply with the I-9 information requirements.

Before you panic, we’re here to reassure you that it’s not a complicated process. You’ll stay on the right side of the law if you complete the paperwork properly. So, without further ado, let’s dive right into what the I-9 form is and how you stay compliant.

What is the I-9 Form?

U.S. employers are only allowed to employ individuals who have a valid work status within the country. Therefore, the I-9 form is required to properly identify individuals and to verify their eligibility to work within the USA.

This form exists to stem the flow of ineligible or undocumented workers who find their way into the USA and take up jobs and residence there. When the Immigration Reform and Control Act was enacted in 1986, there were around 2.7 million undocumented workers in the United States. The Act sought to legalize those workers already present in the U.S. but also to prevent future unauthorized workers from being employed.

Who Must Complete This Form?

The form consists of three sections:

Section One

The employee is responsible for ensuring that all the information they provide is accurate and true. Their section consists of:

Section Two

Once section one is complete, the employer must complete section two within three days of the employee’s work start date. The employer must: (1) Request and receive documentation that proves the employee’s identity and authorization to work in the USA (2) request and receive any additional identity documentation.

They must also record the following for each piece of identification:

You can find out which documentation is accepted by checking out the PDF version of the application form here.

Section Three

When an employee leaves a place of work and is rehired within a three-year time period, the employer needs to re-verify them. An example of this situation is if the employee was on a fixed-term contract that expired but was renewed for another term.

All you require for this section is the employee’s name and the date they start work.

Who is Responsible for Reviewing I-9 Forms?

It is up to the employer to review all the information contained in the I-9 paperwork. This includes cross-referencing the information written in section one with the pieces of identification given for section two. The employer must also check that the documents given are legitimate, valid, and haven’t expired.

COVID-19 Form I-9 Flexibilities Announcement

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 20, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced flexibility in I-9 requirements. This change deferred the physical presence requirements associated with completing Section 2 of the Form I-9 and allowed employers who were operating remotely to review the documents virtually. And as of April 1, 2021, the requirement that employers inspect employees’ Form I-9 identity eligibility documentation in-person applies only to those employees who physically report to work at a company location on a regular basis.

Presently, DHS has mandated that, within three business days of either returning to “normal operations” or the expiration of DHS’s I-9 flexibility provisions, employers have to conduct an in-person review of the I-9 documents. This provision only applies to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely.

Is the I-9 Information Process the Same for Remote Hires?

The answer to this question depends on if the company has directly employed the employee or if they are working on a contract basis. In accordance with normal operations, if it is a direct-hire, then the I-9 documents and the process for completion are exactly the same. The documents must be viewed in person, which can present a problem if the employee lives further afield. There are workarounds, however, and many remote employees use the following methods to have their I.D. checked:

If the remote worker was hired as a contractor, then it is unnecessary to complete form I-9. This is because the employer is not directly employing the individual. Rather, the individual works on a self-employed basis, so the employer is not responsible for their eligibility to work.

How Do Employers Ensure That I-9 Forms are Completed Correctly?

The I-9 form shouldn’t be rushed. Employers should take the time to carefully read through all the information provided and supporting documentation to ensure it’s correct. Issue the form to the employee the moment they start working for you. By doing so, you will have the maximum amount of time to ensure it’s done correctly.

It’s also always a wise idea to have an additional person double-check that all the information is present and accurate. A second pair of eyes may spot a mistake that you would otherwise have missed.

How Do Employers Stay in Compliance with the Law?

All I-9 forms must be fully completed and verified within three days of the employee’s start date. Failure to do this will be a breach of compliance.

Furthermore, all documentation must be legitimate and must not have expired. When checking the documents, if anything seems amiss, you can request an alternative document. If the new document also doesn’t seem right or the employee cannot produce further identification, then you must terminate their employment.

Lastly, if the individual is found to not be eligible to work in the U.S., their employment must be terminated immediately.

It’s worth mentioning here that I-9 forms need to be held for all current employees. Once an employee leaves, you must retain their I-9 document for one year from the termination date or three years from the original hire date. Choose whichever date is later.

Are There Any Penalties for Non-Compliance?

As expected, the penalties for hiring an unauthorized worker are no fun. Failure to complete the I-9 document also carried heavy penalties. The consequences include:
Fortunately, you do have a small margin for error as the U.S. government recognizes that mistakes are sometimes honestly made. Therefore, you have ten days to correct any technical errors. If it’s determined that you have acted in good faith, you may possibly avoid the fine. The following are considered technical errors:

The bottom line? Don’t be like this employer who was penalized with a whopping $1.5 million worth of fines for knowingly employing unauthorized workers.

How Can Employers Protect Themselves From Liability?

Staying compliant with I-9 for all employees is just one aspect of protecting yourself from liability. You must also be very careful not to use the I9 for discrimination purposes. In other words, you may not treat anyone differently because they are or are not U.S. citizens or work-authorized individuals. You also cannot use the information on an I-9 form when making employment decisions.

Additionally, you are not permitted to ask for extra documentation that is not required for the I-9 form. If you do so, this could be deemed discriminatory and could trigger an investigation.

What Are Some Common Mistakes Made on I-9 Forms?

Mistakes often happen. Common employee mistakes include:
Employers commonly do the following:

How to Correct Errors Without Violating Regulations?

Errors can be easily and legally corrected. However, always use a different colored pen to do the following:

What is E-Verify?

E-verify is a government system that allows you to compare form I-9 to government records to confirm that an employee is legally allowed to work in the U.S. It is, however, not obligatory for employers to use it when completing the I-9 form.

It works by taking the social security number along with photo identification and completing the verification process using the E-verify website.

Although voluntary, it is a sound practice to use E-verify. By doing so, you are applying proper due diligence and reducing the potential for mistakenly hiring an unauthorized worker.

How to Find Professional Help With I-9 Review for Compliance

Using dedicated HR and onboarding software is the best and easiest way to streamline your form I-9 verification process. Electronic versions of forms are easily corrected and never lost. Since the information exists in the cloud, you can access the information remotely when needed.

HR professionals are the best people to have on board for I-9 form completion. They’re already experienced and trained on how to apply best-practice during the completion process.

However, we appreciate that many businesses don’t have HR staff on their payroll. In this case, we recommend hiring one of our virtual Finvisor HR professionals for the job. All of our HR staff use cloud-based software to ensure processes are smooth and streamlined and, more importantly, so you don’t lose your data.

Who Do You Contact with Questions About I-9 Forms?

At Finvisor, our job is to provide expert advice and services to businesses that need them. Our dedicated team of HR professionals is on-hand to answer any questions you may have about I-9 and remaining compliant.

With flexible packages to suit all budgets, you can have the HR resource you’ve always needed but can’t afford at this stage in the business. To find out more about Finvisor or I-9 requirements, give us a call or drop us an email.

To learn more about what we do, or to request a quote, contact us at hello@finvisor.com or 415-416-6682. We’re here to help you navigate deferred revenue journal entries so you can make the most of your assets!

*This blog does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. This blog should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.*



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