DBTC Law Firm


One little form, such big dollars

Every U.S. employer is required to have a completed Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification Form) for every employee hired since 1986, to confirm that employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. To many business owners and human resources professionals, this form is considered a simple one-page piece of hiring paperwork.  However, the one page form can carry big monetary penalties for small mistakes and simple human error.  One national retailer recently was assessed over $1 million dollars in fines for incomplete and incorrectly filled out I-9 forms.  Smaller, local businesses are not immune from the scrutiny either.  A Tennessee furniture maker was given ten days to get their I-9 forms up to compliance or risk a minimum $112,500 fine.  The result was over a third of their 900 employees were let go and they paid an undisclosed fine for the violations.


Those are just two examples of countless cases of fines being handed out for simple oversight and mistakes on the part of employers.  With increased scrutiny and audits being conducted every year, it is important to double check your business practices and correct any I-9 violations now before it is too late.


Audits of employer I-9 forms increased from 250 in 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012, an 1100% increase over a five-year period.  Fines for simple errors, such as incomplete forms, range from $110 to $1,100 per violation.  Fines increase to $375 to $14,050 per violation for knowingly or continuing to employ unauthorized workers.  United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security which conducts the audits, handed out more than $13 million dollars in fines based on violations discovered during these audits last year alone.  Big and small businesses alike are all susceptible to having ICE audit their records for potential compliance issues.  To avoid the potentially high costs of an I-9 violation, employers should keep these three common Form I-9 errors in mind:


1.         Failure to Comply with the Three-Day Rule

ICE rules state that the I-9 Form must be completed within three business days of the employee’s first day of work.  This in essence means the newly hired employee must complete section one of the form and provide two forms of identification as listed on the I-9, and these identification documents must be verified by the employer all within three business days.  Failure to do so results in a minimum $110 fine per violation.


2.         Incorrect or Missing Forms

Did you know employers are required by law to maintain for inspection original I-9 forms for all current employees and I-9 forms for former employees for a period of three years from the date of hire or for one year after the employee is no longer employed, whichever is longer?  Other common mistakes include incorrect dates, missing signatures, transposed information and failure to check boxes.  These simple errors can also each result in a minimum fine of $110 per violation.


3.         Invalid Identifying Documents and Failure to Re-verify

In the excitement and stress of hiring a new employee, it can be difficult for the human resources director or other hiring manager to verify that all the documents given by the employee are valid as required.  An employer must obtain the right combination of documents as prescribed on the form.  All documents must be unexpired and originals when presented for verification.


Along the same lines of not obtaining proper identification documents, employers can also be fined for failure to re-verify documents of employees with certain statuses, such as those with Employment Authorization Cards or those with Lawful Permanente Residents status (“Green Card holders”).  These documents are typically valid for one to ten years.  Once the card expires and cannot be supplemented with a new, valid card, the employee is no longer authorized to work.  Fines for employing an unauthorized worker start at $375 for first time offenses but can escalate to more than $14,000 per violation for multiple offenses.


It can be extremely time-consuming to manually track the expiration dates for supporting documents and remind employees to provide updated documents in timely fashion.  Furthermore, keeping everything in order and maintaining records properly is something many businesses struggle with.  The Davis Law Firm can audit your records and work with you to address any potential errors.  Call today to set up a consultation.