Are your I-9 forms in order? Are you sure? Performing a self-audit isn’t hard; it just takes a little time and attention to some details. It’s a great project to delegate to that new HR assistant or eager intern. But even if you have no earnest assistant, the good news is that the self-audit can be broken down into manageable steps.

Form I-9, of course, is the federal form that must be completed by all new hires and the employer within three business days of the start date in accordance with the Immigration and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. The form is used to verify and document the eligibility of individuals to work in the U.S.  Note that it is not required for employees hired before November 6, 1986, when the law was passed.

The form’s instructions provide lists of acceptable forms of identification that serve as proof of the person’s identity and eligibility. Remember, you must examine the original documents, not copies. An excellent resource for everything you need to know about properly completing I-9s can be found in HRSentry’s I-9 Kit, including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Handbook for Employers:  Instructions for Completing the Form I-9.

It’s helpful to break the audit into two main sections: current staff and terminated staff. Here are the steps to take.

I.  For Current Staff:

Create a master list of all current employees with name and hire date and check to see if you have an I-9 on file for every employee (except those hired before 1986.) If you find no employees missing a properly completed I-9, you’re in luck! If you do find employees without I-9s or find documentation errors, create audit lists of these current staff members.

For rehired staff note that if the date of rehire is more than three years from the original hire date, a new Form I-9 is required.  If rehired within three years, the rehire date must be documented at the bottom of the original I-9.

If You Discover Missing forms

Contact each person individually and in writing (email is fine.) Your communication should be clear and firm. Ask him or her to provide document(s) from List A or Lists B and C of the I-9 form by a certain deadline. (The Handbook for Employers suggests requiring that the employee bring in the documents the next work day.) You may wish to offer an apology that the documentation was either misplaced or not collected when it should have been; however, be clear that it is vital to comply with federal law and that the employee will not be able to continue working for you without providing these documents. Keep a copy of the email or written request to document your efforts.

Some employees may not be able to locate the requested documents. Certain receipts for documents requests are acceptable for a 90-day period. For example, an employee who has lost her social security card may request a new one from the Social Security office. The request receipt serves as appropriate documentation for 90 days, giving her time until the new card arrives.

When you complete I-9s based on these newly produced documents, you should still use the employee’s actual hire date even though it is more than three days prior to the date of the I-9. Attach a note that explains the discrepancy, indicating the date of your self-audit.

Looking for I-9 errors

Under Section One:

  • Check that all fields are complete: name, maiden name if applicable, address and date of birth.
  • Did the employee check their status box?
  • If the employee checked “lawful permanent resident” – did they include their alien number?
  • If the employee checked “alien with work authorization” – did they include their work authorization expiration date and alien number?
  • Is the form signed and dated? If translator was used is that information filled out?

Under Section Two:

  • Did a company representative examine the actual documents and complete this section?

Under Section Three:

  • If a work authorization form was used for documentation, did a company representative review the updated documents and complete Section Three?

The Handbook for Employers indicates that the best way to correct Form I-9 is to put a line through the incorrect portions, then enter the correct information along with your initials and the date. If you have previously made changes with White-Out, the USCIS recommends attaching a signed and dated note explaining what happened.

II. For Terminated Employees:

Keep I-9s for terminated staff in a separate file. These should be retained for three years after the employee’s date of hire or for one year following his or her date of termination, whichever date is later.

Create a list of terminated employees that includes their name and dates of hire and termination.

Review date of hire; add three years to that date. Review date of termination; add one year to that date. Whichever date is later is the date through which you must keep the I-9 on file.

I-9s past their retention period should be destroyed.  For those that remain, check for the same errors as noted above for current employees.

Unfortunately, obtaining documentation or making corrections for terminated employees is difficult and unlikely. Document your efforts and all of your audit steps. This way, if your I-9s are ever inspected by the federal government, you can demonstrate your good faith efforts to comply.

One last thing: you may have noticed that the current form has an expiration date of August 31, 2012. No worries; the USCIS recently announced that employers may continue to use it beyond that date.  As soon as there’s a new form available, HRSentry will let you know.

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