Compliance and Legal
Like it, don’t like it, the I-9 Form has become a basic part of the new hire paperwork at every company in the U.S.
This deceptively simple addition to the stack of first day human resource forms is an employer’s proof that he or she did everything required to make sure every employee is eligible to work in the United States.
Officially, the Form I-9 is called the Employment Eligibility Verification Form. A mouthful to be sure, which is why people started using the moniker “I-9.”
These unlovely forms are issued by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and are required of every single new employee, even those born in the U.S. with a valid birth certificate and a lifetime in the same small town somewhere in mid-America.
The basic rules of the I-9
By law, within the employee’s first three days of work you must complete and retain a Form I-9. This rule applies to every employee hired after November 6, 1986, regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens.
- The form acts as evidence that you have followed the legal process for verifying the employee’s identity and right to work in this country. As a side note, the rules about what does or does not constitute acceptable proof of identity and right to work have changed dramatically from the start of the program, so be sure you’re using the most current list of acceptable documents.
- The form is must be completed, and kept for at least three years from the date the employment started or one year after the employment ended, whichever is later.
- Some forms of acceptable I.D., including work permits or green cards, have expiration dates. If these are among the types of identification offered by a new employee, employers are responsible for recertifying work eligibility when those expire. Other forms of I.D., like driver’s licenses, also expire, but do not require recertification.
- Employers must accept any forms of identification or proof allowed by the I-9 Form. They cannot require one particular kind and refuse another. If they’re on the list, they’re acceptable.
- Both the employee and the employer must sign the I-9 Form once it’s complete.
- The I-9 is not, contrary to popular belief, something employers send into a government agency for review. They are kept at the workplace, and can be inspected by government auditors at any time. In the interest of employee privacy, it’s best to store these forms in a separate folder or binder instead of with other human resource forms.
Although it seems straightforward, there are some quirks in the I-9 rules that catch many unprepared employers. A few of the more common ones are:
- Not completing the employer’s section of the form. Believe it or not, failure to enter all of the employer’s information (including a full address) can result in a substantial fine. (Many employers are protecting themselves from this common mistake by having the basic company information preprinted on all of their human resource forms, including I-9 and W-4 forms.)
- Requiring certain types of identification or more identification for some employees. This practice most often arises when employers believe the I.D requirements are minimums, rather than absolutes. Charges of discrimination can also arise from these practices, as an element of racial, ethnic or religious profiling is often part of the equation in these cases.
- Not keeping the I-9 forms on site. When inspectors come to call, employers must have the completed forms for all employees (and past employees, within the time limit) on hand and accessible. Forms stored in an offsite location, at another branch or in a headquarters in another state are not in compliance with the rules.
For better or for worse, the I-9 is a part of the hiring landscape. But with a clear understanding of the form and its requirements, employers can quickly and accurately complete this part of the new hire orientation, and move on to welcoming their newest employee to the team.
Lindsay Shugerman is a writer, researcher and online development professional at G. Neil, one of the nation’s oldest and most respected suppliers of HR information and materials including labor law posters, attendance trackers, compliance products and employee motivational tools.
A graduate of the University of Miami and the University of Utah, Lindsay uses her degrees in English, Psychology, HR/Organizational Development and Training, and Political Science to help employers understand their obligations under state and federal labor laws and industry guidelines. A former newspaper feature writer, restaurant owner, and retail manager, she can now be found writing about human resource issues, employment law and management skills with a combination of academic expertise and real-world experience.
When she’s not writing, she’s researching social marketing trends and new developments in human resource management, participating in G. Neil’s product development or sharing the latest online connection tools with her colleagues.
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