A produce company called Frio County Partners Inc. was recently fined more than $10,000 following alleged Form I-9 violations.
ICE proposes nearly $16,000 fine
The fruit and vegetable provider does business as Jack's Produce. It is a small operation based in Pearsall, Tex. The government served Frio County Produce with a Notice of Inspection on Aug. 26, 2013, according to the final decision. The company was informed it had three days to submit the requested Form I-9s to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for review. The produce business was granted an extension by the agency, and submitted the documents to ICE on Sept. 3.
ICE discovered a number of issues with the submitted Form I-9s, and delivered a Notice of Technical or Procedural Failures on Oct. 2. The agency's March 2014 Notice of Intent to Fine delivered to Frio County Produce stated that the it failed to ensure compliance of Section 1 on 18 of its Form I-9s. In addition, ICE claimed that the produce business did not properly fill out Sections 2 or 3. In response to the violations identified by the agency, it proposed a fine of $15,988.50.
However, the fine would ultimately be reduced to $10,550 by Administrative Law Judge Stacy Paddack. The ALJ decided that ICE did not distinguish between the severity of the various infractions it identified. Instead, the agency sought to apply a single penalty to each of the violations, rather than adjust the fines for degree of seriousness. For this reason, Paddack decided it would be best to reduce the total fine ultimately levied against the produce company.
ALJ breaks down various infractions
Paddack laid out the violations identified and the severity of of them. She noted that Frio County Produce failed to ensure two employees signed Section 1, that the employer attestation was blank for three employees, that the company failed to prepare numerous Form I-9s within three days of hire and that the issuing authorities for some identification documents were not listed. Some of these infractions were "egregious," according to Paddack.
"[The company's] failure to complete several Form I-9s within three days of an employee's first day of employment are very serious, especially because the failures to complete timely Form I-9s range from three months to nine years out of date," Paddack explained.
The ALJ added that employees' failures to sign Section 1, as well as the company's neglect of Section 2, comprised the most "egregious violations." The serious infractions begat a penalty still large, though reduced from the fine proposed by ICE.
Small companies such as Frio County Partners often find it difficult to keep track of Form I-9 compliance. However, a failure to do so could actually result in worse problems. It is essential to stay on top of Form I-9 compliance to avoid the fines that come with infractions. Even smaller companies face substantial risks associated with improper Form I-9 completion.
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