Every hiring process in the United States encounters a pivotal step: the completion of Form I-9. It’s a fundamental part of onboarding, yet it can be a source of confusion for both employers and employees. It’s time to demystify this document and provide a clear understanding of its purpose, requirements, and implications.
What Is Form I-9?
The Employment Eligibility Verification Form, better known as Form I-9, is a mandatory document for all U.S. employers, which must be completed to verify the identity and legal authorization to work of every paid employee in the United States. All employees hired after November 6, 1986, are required to complete an I-9 form at the time of hire.
The Purpose of Form I-9
Form I-9 is designed to prevent unauthorized employment in the United States. In essence, it is a tool for employers to ensure that they are hiring individuals who are legally permitted to work in the U.S.—including citizens and noncitizens. The form has three sections that must be filled out:
- Section 1: Completed by the employee, who provides personal and employment eligibility information.
- Section 2: Completed by the employer, who examines documents presented by the employee that prove identity and employment authorization.
- Section 3: Used for re-verification and rehires, where applicable.
Employers are required to maintain completed I-9 forms for all active employees and for a certain period after employment ends. Not maintaining these forms, or failing to complete them accurately, can result in penalties.
What It Means for Employers
For the employer, Form I-9 is more than just paperwork; it is a legal requirement that carries the weight of ensuring that the workforce is legally compliant with U.S. employment laws. Here are some key points employers need to consider:
- Timeliness: Form I-9 must be completed within three days of the employee’s first day of work.
- Record Keeping: Employers must retain I-9 forms for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later.
- Verification: Employers must physically examine one document from List A or a combination of one document from List B and one from List C of the Form I-9.
- Non-Discrimination: Employers must be careful not to unlawfully discriminate against potential hires based on their nationality or citizenship status during the completion of Form I-9.
- Audits: Employers should be prepared for potential audits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and should have an internal I-9 compliance program.
What It Means for Employees
Employees too have responsibilities and rights regarding Form I-9. Here is what they need to know:
- Documentation: Employees must provide acceptable documents evidencing identity and legal authorization to work.
- Right to Work: All authorized workers in the United States are protected from discrimination based on their citizenship status or national origin when it comes to Form I-9.
- Privacy: Employees’ personal information collected through Form I-9 must be handled with confidentiality and security.
Best Practices for Handling Form I-9
Employers should adopt stringent measures to ensure compliance and smooth handling of Form I-9 processes:
- Conduct regular internal audits of I-9 forms.
- Utilize E-Verify, where appropriate, to help with verification of employment eligibility.
- Train human resources personnel and hiring managers on the correct procedures.
- Establish a consistent company policy for the retention and storage of I-9 forms.
- Implement a system for timely destruction of outdated I-9 forms in accordance with the law.
Addressing Common Misconceptions
There are several common mistakes and misconceptions regarding Form I-9:
- Employees must choose which documents to present from the Lists of Acceptable Documents; employers cannot dictate which specific documents they prefer.
- Photocopies of the I-9 form are not acceptable; the form must have original signatures.
- Remote hiring does not exempt an employer from viewing the original documentation; employers can use an authorized representative to complete the process.
The Future of Form I-9
As workforce dynamics evolve, there may be specific updates or changes to Form I-9. Employers need to stay informed about any revisions to employment eligibility verification processes or documentation requirements.
The Impact of Non-Compliance
Failure to comply with I-9 requirements can result in severe consequences, including fines, criminal penalties, and even debarment from government contracts. Ensuring through compliance mitigates risks and builds a foundation for an ethical and lawful workforce.
Form I-9 is a critical component in the hiring and continuous employment procedures within the U.S. It represents an essential step in verifying a legal workforce while also protecting the rights of employees to work. Employers are highly encouraged to be proactive in their I-9 practices and to handle this form with the seriousness it warrants. For employers and employees alike, understanding and adhering to the I-9 requirements is not just a legal mandate but a commitment to maintaining an equitable and compliant work environment.