In the time that I have worked as an HR Consultant, I have stumbled upon a large amount of employers who do not know how to properly fill out their I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) documents.

This poses a rather large problem in the event that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent would come through the doors for a file audit, because each incorrectly filled out I-9 will cost an organization between $100-1000 in fines and penalties. Therefore, a company with only 50 employees could be looking at fine amounts in excess of $50,000.

Avoiding fines of this nature can actually be very easy. However, it does necessitate that you follow a few simple rules about I-9 compliance.

Document Appropriate Forms of Identification

This is easily the most common error that I have encountered in my many years of HR Consulting. Simply put, companies are not checking the appropriate forms of identification that verify both the employee’s identity and their right to work in the United States. Without verification of these two characteristics, individuals are legally ineligible to work within the U.S.

The I-9 document provides two options when it comes to documenting an employee’s identity and right to work. The first option is to document a piece of identification that verifies both characteristics. Examples of documents that fulfill this requirement are U.S. Passports, Certificates of U.S. Citizenship, and Permanent Resident Cards.

The second option is to verify each requirement through separate forms of identification. To implement this option, you must first document a form of ID that establishes the employee’s identity. These documents would include a Driver’s license, State ID card, or a Voter’s registration card. Next, you must record a form of identification that verifies employment eligibility. These documents include U.S. social security cards, Birth certificates, and Native American tribal documents.

After having checked the proper forms of identification, be sure to transcribe the information into the appropriate fields. While this sounds a little elementary, most professionals would be shocked by the amount of employers who have taken the time to verify the correct documentation only to fill out the form incorrectly. Though this might be little more than a mental error, I assure you that the fines are no less stiff.

Fill in Form Completely and Correctly

Another problem that I often find with my client’s I-9s is that they have failed to fill in one or two of the major components of the document. The most common of these errors occur in two distinct places.

The first common mistake is that employers forget to fill in the employee’s start date with the company. This field where this date is to be inserted is in the middle of the paragraph labeled “CERTIFICATION”.

The second most common mistake I find is that employees forget to check the box which declares their citizenship status. Thus, employers need to make sure that they are not only doing their part to complete the document, but that the employee has also filled in their portions of the document correctly as well.

Keep I-9s Together

Keeping your I-9s compiled in one location can prove to be very convenient if you happened to be visited by the government. One suggestion that I make to all of my PEO clients is to compile your employees’ I-9s in a three-ring binder. This way, if an auditor would happen to stop in for a visit, you will have all of the documents ready and on-hand for a quick and painless audit.

Destroy All Copied Forms of Identification

This last suggestion is more of a “best practice” than a federal compliance issue. Due to the fact that identity theft has become such a pressing issue in our society, destroying all copied forms of identification is an easy way to limit your liability in regards to employee identity theft. Since you do not need to have your employees’ identification documents on file to be federally compliant, there is no reason to keep them around.

If you follow these rather easy steps and suggestions, you will keep your organization out of court and in the green – a winning combination by even highest of standards.

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