HR departments and professionals have so many things to tackle at any given time of the day, that it can be overwhelming at certain moments. Thus, to avoid risks such as disillusionment or burnout that might be massively detrimental to their company, often things like compliance are compartmentalized and prioritized below others. While no organization can risk completely ignoring an issue of even small importance, it's perfectly natural to put certain things on the back burner.
Problems arise, though, when some of those tasks stay on that burner, so to speak. This holds especially true if they're some of the routine but essential tasks that help to guarantee compliance with local, state and federal guidelines - particularly the federal ones pertaining to Form I-9. The chance for even a small number of minor mistakes during the employment eligibility process isn't worth the chance of luckily slipping past the notice of Homeland Security. Here, we'll take a closer look at how steep the noncompliance penalties for I-9 violations - deliberate or unwitting - can be, while also examining ways in which such headaches can be avoided.
The Form I-9 must be completed for each employee within 3 business days from the date of hire without omitting any necessary information, making any mistakes, or being willfully deceptive about any aspect. But any employer that expects the Labor Department or Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take a lenient approach regarding how they penalize organizations needs to rethink this belief immediately. After all, one of the main purposes of HR departments is to review applications, W-4s, manage the Form I-9 process, review employment verification documents and make sure that any issues are rectified post-haste.
According to Sue Kohlwey of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services' Outreach branch, a typical organization that completes I-9s using pen and paper will have errors on 76% or more of their I-9 forms.
Alpine Staffing's noncompliance penalties: A cautionary tale
As we've discussed in past pieces, ICE increased its fines for all violations related to Form I-9, for all levels of offense from miniscule to severe. Even the small financial penalties can easily add up - the lowest is $216, and the highest is $2,156. Also, these punishments apply to individual compliance lapses, so one problematic I-9 could potentially incur a dozen or more violations.
Recently, the recruitment agency Alpine Staffing found out exactly how dire the consequences of noncompliance can be when they're allowed to compound. According to the record of a federal court ruling on a lawsuit filed against Alpine by the Department of Justice, the quantity and severity of the company's violations were enough to lead to $367,000 in ICE fines. Offenses included the failure to deliver the forms to ICE on time, as well as submitting erroneous I-9s and not completing all appropriate and necessary forms.
The immigration litigation group Murthy Law Firm noted that an act of clemency by the DOJ's Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer reduced the final fine to $276,000 after Alpine Staffing filed an appeal following the initial ruling. However, this is still more than a quarter million dollars - far more than most companies have lying around to throw at financial penalties – along with repairing the damage to the company’s reputation. Even the biggest conglomerates and multinational giants of industry can’t afford burdens like that – and any small or moderately-sized business, regardless of its profitability, would likely be crippled by such punishment. As such, it's prudent to find ways in which violations can be minimized (and, ideally, eliminated almost entirely).
Implement training whenever necessary
The efficacy of preemptive action in this matter can't be understated. After all, ICE has assessed over $100 million in fees related to I-9 audits over the past 3 years, and ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) audits are expected to increase under the Trump administration.
Murthy Law recommended that employers should begin their compliance maintenance efforts with the implementation of an internal auditing initiative for I-9s and related documentation. HR department members with the most thorough Form I-9 knowledge should spearhead these efforts, spreading the understanding of all essential compliance processes to everyone in this portion of the company. Essentially, this method of learning by doing has a strong chance of solidifying correct I-9 completion techniques among everyone in HR.
Between the fines and other penalties that I-9 noncompliance can engender - seizure of non-monetary assets, frozen accounts, various hiring limitations and so on - and the clear importance of these issues to the federal government, it's eminently clear that work authorization compliance must take a place among the top administrative priorities of any business. In addition to the steps described here, tools like E-Verify and Form I-9 and E-Verify software solutions can be majorly beneficial to such efforts.
To learn more about how web-based Form I-9 compliance solutions can help any size organization to ensure compliance and mitigate legal risk click here to contact us.