The federal I-9 form, which verifies an employee’s identity and right to work in the United States, is one of the most important compliance requirements all employers have, regardless of their size. For the past 30 years, any newly-hired or rehired employee has been required to complete the I-9 process within the first three days of employment in order to remain employed.
Employers have always been required to use the most recent version of the form, which one can tell from the expiration date that is on the form itself. However, because of delays in issuing an updated form, many may not realize they’ve been using an expired form for most of 2016. All that is about to change, as the long-anticipated revised I-9 is set to be released by November 22, 2016.
The changes that are coming to Form I-9 are significant and noticeable. They include the addition of dropdown menus, the creation of QR codes when the form is printed, a button to access instructions, validations to ensure data is entered in an acceptable format, permissible abbreviations to document titles, and a requirement that the employee attest whether or not they used a preparer/translator.
Importantly, while many of the changes are designed to make electronic completion of the form easier, the form does not allow for electronic signatures, so even if the fill-in-the-blank sections are completed electronically, the form must still be printed for handwritten signatures.
While employers have until January 22, 2017 to begin using the new form, Affinity HR Group recommends transitioning as soon as practical and not risk missing the deadline, as the penalties for using an outdated form are similar to those for completing the form incorrectly or not at all.
Speaking of penalties, fines for I-9 violations went up on August 1, 2016, nearly doubling in some cases. So the introduction of the revised form is also a perfect time to audit the I-9s of your current employees to ensure none are missing, incomplete, or have an expired work authorization (not to be confused with other documents that may have since expired but are okay as they were valid when the I-9 was originally completed).
While the audit process can be tedious with detailed requirements for correction, below are some basic tips:
- Audit I-9s for all current employees. While auditing a selective sampling is permissible, criteria for choosing the sample must not appear to be discriminatory or retaliatory, such as over-representing those employees who may not be citizens.
- As Section 1 is completed by employees, employers should not correct any errors or omissions in this section. Rather, when there are errors, the employees themselves should strike through incorrect information, input the correct or missing information, and initial and date the area.
- The employer sections (2 and 3) may be corrected by the employer in the same manner as in the employee section. Multiple errors may require completing the section on a new form and attaching it, along with a signed and dated explanation, to the original form. Erasing or concealing incorrect information is not permitted. Corrections must be noted on the form.
- Backdating a signature line is prohibited. The current date should be added and initialed.
- If an employee’s form is missing or was never completed, the current version of the form should be completed by both employee and employer, again, not backdating the signatures. (But be sure to use the correct hire date!)
- If the form is missing the information concerning the employee’s IDs, the employee should be asked to provide their documentation (based on the options the current version allows). The employer should complete section 2 and 3 on the current version of the form, attaching it to the employee’s original form. Remember, you cannot tell the employee which documents on the lists to present – while it is tempting to say, “I need to see your driver’s license and social security card,” to do so for I-9 purposes is illegal.
The changes in the new Form I-9 are an excellent opportunity to make sure your company has a handle on this important obligation for employers. And with the holiday season approaching and the deadline for compliance set for January 22, it bears repeating that using the new form is something you must start doing soon. Don’t put this off and risk significant penalties!
By Charlotte Jensen, Vice President, HR Compliance – Affinity HR Group Inc.