I offer you the final chapter in our three-part series on important employer audits. The immigration, or I-9, audit completes the trifecta of critical audits that the federal government is out to enforce with your employer groups this year.

See other blogs in the series: Fear the DOL wage and hour audit

And: Fear the DOL health plan audit

My personal experience with auditing numerous I-9s is that compliance is tricky and fraught with probability for fines if not done properly. Take one employer in the Chicago area who called us after an audit that found her I-9s wanting. The auditor from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, found blank spots on a few of her I-9s, but what really created financial pain was the auditor’s keen observation that most of the I-9s were filled out with the same type of pen and with the same handwriting. This seemed strange given that employees supposedly completed the I-9s over an extended period. The auditor asked abruptly — ‘Did you fill out these I-9s shortly before the audit? It looks that way?’ The employer answered sheepishly, yes. Busted! ICE levied the fines, but we got her on track for the future with some training.

Training on the I-9 form is important for employers. While only a single form and a couple of identification checks, an unforgiving ICE will dock unknowing employers for the slightest infraction. Sizeable fines result from simple errors. Civil penalties for employers and their errant I-9 forms range from $110 to $1,100 per violation. Civil penalties for willfully hiring and continuing to employ unauthorized workers range from $375 to $3,200 per violation, for first time violations. This little tid-bit of knowledge can be quite important to your employer groups and a differentiating narrative to work into your conversation with prospects. In weighing the size of fines, ICE will take into consideration the following factors:

  1. Size of the business;
  2. Good-faith efforts to comply;
  3. Seriousness of the violation;
  4. Whether the violation involved unauthorized workers; and
  5. History of previous violations. 

Since 1986, every employee must have a valid, completed I-9 form in their personnel file. ICE notified employers last spring of a new I-9 for all new employees.  
So, how does one take the fear out of an I-9 audit? One way is to periodically audit your I-9s. However, one immigration law firm — MDivani — says to be wary of the following mistakes during your internal audit:

  • Redoing all the forms I-9 and throwing away the originals,
  • Separating copies of documents from forms I-9 and throwing them away,
  • Not checking information in section 1 against copies of documents recorded in Section 2,
  • Making changes to forms I-9 without initializing and dating the forms and,
  • Inserting backdated information in forms I-9 making them appear to be completed timely.

Each one of these mistakes in auditing has led to massive fines by ICE and even findings of unlawful employment of aliens.
Now that we have the do-not’s outlined, let us turn our attention to common mistakes employers make that end up as costly fines (see checklist link below). Telling your employers to follow these simple reminders can help them forego fines and gain you a big thank you for the priceless advice you gave instead of your competitor.

Davidson, CEBS, is founder of Davidson Marketing Group and FutureOffice Network. He is also on the faculty at the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Reach him at craigd@davidsonmarketing.com.

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