Employers: Should You Do an I-9 Self-Audit?

If you’ve hired employees, you know that you must collect certain information about those employees in order to comply with the law.  One thing you absolutely must do is verify an employee’s right to work in the United States and fill out a form I-9 with the essential details.

You also know that you can only hire people legally authorized to work in the United Stats, and that you can face stiff penalties if you hire someone you know (or have reason to know) is not in the country legally.

However, many employers don’t realize that they may also face stiff penalties from ICE if they don’t fill out the I-9 form correctly and timely.

WHAT IS “ICE” ANYWAY?

Prior to 2002, the INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) regulated and enforced the immigration laws. Then, along came the Homeland Security Act of 2002, and the INS was split into 3 agencies of the newly -formed DHS (Department of Homeland Security):

  1. USCIS – US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for most of the documentation relating to alien employment authorization, form I-9, and for the E-Verify employment eligibility system;
  2. ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that enforces the provisions of the law; and
  3. CBP – Customs and Border Protection, the agency that protects our borders from unlawful entry.

ICE enforces the provisions of federal law that require an employer to collect “eligibility to work” information on Form I-9, no later than the FIRST DAY OF EMPLOYMENT. Employers then have 3 business days to examine the documents produced by the employee and complete the employer section of the form.

SO WHY DO A SELF-AUDIT?

Isn’t it better not to know where you messed up so you can claim ignorance? Or are you thinking, “Hey, I know how to fill out these forms, I’ve been doing it for years, and I’m sure I would pass an audit inspection.”

Not so fast. First, it is BETTER to know where you messed up so you can fix the errors, show your good faith, and maybe escape penalty. Or, if you feel like you have a good handle on the forms and would pass an audit inspection with flying colors, ask yourself how SURE you are of that conviction. Wouldn’t it be better in either case to know for SURE? I recommend you conduct a yearly self-audit of your I-9 records so that you know your forms are filled out correctly and so that you catch and fix any errors before an audit.

Another great reason to self-audit? ICE gives you just 3 DAYS NOTICE to get your files ready for inspection. You will receive a Notice of Inspection and then if you don’t hand over your records within 3 business days you will get into all sorts of hot water. If your records are not organized and correctly completed, you may as well hand over your checkbook. It’s going to cost you.

On the other hand, if you have conducted your self-audit, then your files will be organized, corrections and errors will be noted, and you will make the inspector’s job very easy and the inspector will be happy. A happy inspector is more likely to decide that you made a good faith effort to do things right, and you may escape with minimal to no fines or penalties.

HOW DO I HANDLE THIS SELF-AUDIT?

Well, I recommend that you or your company’s HR person contact me to help you understand any recent changes in the law, and to ensure that you are following the regulations.

I will assess the size of the self-audit and may be able to charge you a flat fee to conduct the self-audit. I can also provide a checklist if you’d rather do the self-audit yourself, and I can be there to support you and answer questions along the way.

ONE FINAL WORD

If you are considering the self-audit, don’t delay. The penalties for errors or willful violations are stiff.

Contact me today to get the ball rolling.