In today's rapidly shifting environment of commission changes and fee-based services, we are all looking for additional services we can provide to our employer groups. So why not provide a service that every employer in the United States is required by law to comply with?

I-9 forms provide just such an opportunity. Moreover, the technology to deliver I-9 services has become quite sophisticated and easier to deploy and utilize. These software-as-a-service solutions can be totally electronic and automated because electronic documents with electronic signatures are fully acceptable. Furthermore, electronic I-9s can be seamlessly integrated with the federal government's E-Verify program.

Employers must complete a Form I-9 for each person hired to perform work for wages or other remuneration. The federal legislation requiring the use of I-9s was enacted to help control the hiring of undocumented workers. Given today's concerns surrounding immigration, including recent city, state and federal legislation, we can expect more scrutiny of I-9 forms by government officials. This is borne out by increased activity at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which increased its I-9 audits in 2010 by 57% (totaling more than 2,740 companies). The bottom line is that ICE is ramping up its scrutiny of employers that hire illegal workers.

I-9 management is one HR headache that can be easily solved via technology. The benefits of electronic I-9s include:

• All I-9s will be complete and accurate. While I-9s seem simple enough, there are dozens of business rules that must be considered and properly addressed. All of these are built into online solutions - virtually ensuring compliance. Plus, updates to regulations are incorporated well ahead of implementation dates.

• No more paper documents. No more filing. No more copying.

• Centralized management can become a reality. Coordinating the management of I-9 processing with office locations around the country using paper I-9s is difficult at best. Now, all locations can be easily managed and brought into compliance.

• Expiring document alerts. I-9s are used to record various types of work authorization documentation, many of which have expiration dates. Now, employers can receive automated notifications before these documents expire, allowing them to assist employees in getting updated documentation and retaining their authorization to work in the United States.

• Seamless E-Verify submissions. An electronic I-9 can be submitted to the E-Verify system with a single click.

Converting paper I-9 forms

Putting an electronic I-9 processing system in place solves the I-9 problem going forward. But what to do about all those existing paper I-9s? The short answer is: convert them to electronic storage. The process involves scanning the paper I-9s, indexing them, and storing them online in the same system as the electronic versions. Like the electronic I-9s, these documents can be searched, viewed and printed. Done properly, both electronic and scanned I-9s become part of a single, online system.

One additional step to consider is an audit of the existing paper I-9s. The scanning and indexing process only converts the existing data on the forms; it does not check for errors, omissions or other inconsistencies. This is important because more than one third of all completed I-9s contain errors. (Note that reports about the number of errors on existing I-9s vary considerably, but most cite numbers greater than one third.) These are the types of errors that ICE looks for and levies fines against - and sometimes even files criminal charges over.

Even if it is decided that conversion isn't necessary or feasible, employers should consider an internal audit conducted by a third-party I-9 auditor. This process allows errors to be corrected and missing I-9s to be reprocessed.

It's not often that a market includes a requirement with which every employer must comply. And I-9 forms fill the bill here. Now imagine incorporating this type of functionality into a benefits administration portal for all of your employer groups using single-sign-on technology. At the end of the day, helping HR solve their compliance problems with technology makes good sense and good business.

Lamb is SVP and general manager, Benergy Interworks, at A.D.A.M. Inc., in Atlanta. Reach him at jlamb@adamcorp.com.

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