How to Fill Out an I-9 Form for Compliance
Employers in the United States play a vital role in assisting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to ensure that illegal workers are not hired by our organizations. The Form I-9 is the official document in which new employees provide legal documentation that establish both identity and employment authorization. In my role at Helios HR, I often find that most organizations are not complying with the I-9 regulations which can result in hefty fines per each inaccurate document.
What's the Big Deal?
As a nation, we are trying to avoid hiring illegal immigrants to fill US job vacancies. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sector of the US Department of Homeland Security is cracking down on organizations that are doing just that – knowingly or not. It is imperative that employers are verifying the identity and employment authorization of each new hire brought into their organization through the Form I-9. Not following the I-9 requirements can result in fines ranging from $110 for small administrative errors to thousands of dollars (per each instance) for negligence or practices that lead the IRS to believe that an organization is not taking the appropriate actions to ensure a legal and compliant workforce.
If you haven't taken a look at your Form I-9s in a while, it may be a good idea to conduct a self-audit of the forms and correct any administrative errors, re-certify forms as necessary, and complete new forms if needed. When conducting a self-audit, you should ensure that you have a form for each active employee within your organization that has been entirely and accurately completed. Terminated employee Form I-9s should be separated from the active employees and filed separately.
All employees who will play a role in the I-9 process should receive training and detailed instructions on how to complete the Form I-9.
Filling Out the I-9 Form Correctly
The Form I-9 must be completed within 72 hours of a new employee's start date. If the employee is unable to provide the required legal documentation to complete the form, they are ineligible to continue working for an organization until they are able to successfully complete the Form I-9.
The employee is required to complete Section 1 of the form; however, it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that this section was properly completed. Common errors in this section include: not selecting a citizenship status, not providing the required documentation number when selecting “an alien authorized to work” citizenship status, not signing in the appropriate employee signature box, not dating the signature or accidentally dating the signature with their birthday instead of the actual date. While some of these seem like mistakes that an employee would never make, it's important to remember that most new hires have turned on their autopilot while completing their new hire paperwork.
Section 2 is to be completed by the employer – any employee within the organization can complete the Form I-9; if the new employee is located in a remote location with no other employees they can have a Notary Public complete the form. The Form I-9 provides a list of documentation that is acceptable to verify identity and employment authorization of the new hire. You cannot tell your new hires which of these forms to bring with them on the first day, they may provide any of the listed documents as long as they are either one document from list A, or one document from each list B & C. You must see their documentation in person; photocopied documents are not acceptable per the IRS guidelines. When completing Section 2, it is important to provide the Document Title, Issuing Authority, Document Number, and Expiration Date (if applicable) for each document that you are verifying in the provided section for each piece of information. One of the most common mistakes on the Form I-9 is that this section is not fully or accurately completed.
Once Section 1 has been verified, and Section 2 completed by the employer, the employer must certify that they have reviewed the documents in person and they appear to be genuine and establish the identity and work authorization of the new employee. A common oversight in completing this section is to not include the start date of the new hire — this date must match your payroll records. Be sure to complete the entire Certification portion of the Form I-9.
If you ever have a question about how to complete the form; detailed instructions for each section are included on the first few pages of the Form I-9 document on the IRS website. The IRS website also provides further guidance on recertifying the Form I-9, name changes, penalties, and legal requirements.