Most businesses view the i-9 form as like any other company’s paperwork. That is until you start seeing the potential penalties, running into tens of thousands of dollars.
You don’t want to get this process wrong with that scale of financial fines on the cards.
Read on to understand the i-9 form and what’s changed in 2022 since the i-9 penalties of 2020. We’ll explain how to avoid violations, why the rules have changed, and the minimum and maximum i-9 fines.
What Are the i-9 Forms?
I-9 is a U.S. government employment form for businesses to complete as part of a set of statutory documents when hiring staff.
The i-9 is the “Employment Eligibility Verification” form. It’s the paperwork the U.S. government uses to ensure that all U.S. workers have the right to work and earn money as permanent citizens in America.
The form falls under laws governing immigration. It was first introduced in 1986 as a way for the U.S. to control undocumented immigrants. Getting a job without the proper identification and proof of residency becomes more difficult.
What Are the Form Requirements?
Form I-9 is required for any company in the U.S. that employs full-time or part-time personnel.
You’ll also need to carry out a new check if you re-hire someone who previously worked for you to check that they are still eligible to work in the United States.
Part of your role as an employer is to check the information that will go into completing that form.
Since the form is a verification check, you will need to inspect the employee’s identity to check they are who they say they are.
You must date the form from when your employee starts work correctly, and you won’t be able to submit it until they have a formal job offer from you.
How Do You Check your Employee’s Identity?
Before completing the form, you must first do the practical task of checking your employee’s I.D. However, you can do different I.D. checks depending on what the employee possesses.
So most employers will ask for a passport or driving license. Still, the government has a comprehensive list of 25 different I.D. forms they will accept as official verification.
What Departments Oversee i-9, Including Penalties?
Form i-9 is overseen by the Department for Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
But the Department for Homeland Security issues information on penalties and will notify your business of any fines.
You, as the employer, are responsible for checking your employee’s identity. That means that if you fail to complete the form of complete it correctly, it will be you who receive the fine.
I-9 penalty fines vary. The most negligible fine you could get is $252. You may incur this charge for a first offense, which would be for a minor breach, such as incorrect information on the form.
For example, let’s say you enter the wrong start date for the employee. That could be enough for the Department of Homeland Security to issue you a fine.
You must double-check the information you put in the form and cross-check it against any other employee database you have in your business to ensure it matches up.
There are different sizes of fines for mistakes and deliberately misleading the authorities. If you knowingly employ someone without the correct paperwork, fines start at around $627 for the first offense.
That goes up for each offense, which includes recruiting more than one person to your organization when they aren’t permitted to work in the United States. Those fines could go as high as $25,076.
However, these fines aren’t the upper limit for the most severe offenses.
Suppose you regularly recruit illegal workers and deliberately falsify the information on the I-9. In that case, there are no limits to the size of fines you could incur from the Department of Homeland Security.
Some businesses have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. It proves that you need to take these responsibilities seriously. Correctly completing that form could protect your business from financial ruin.
In addition to financial fines, the most severe offenses could lead to criminal prosecution.
What Happens If You Violate I-9 Rules?
Fortunately for companies, if the Department for Homeland Security does find an i9 violation on your form, you don’t receive that penalty immediately.
Instead, the department will write to you and let you know about the problems on the form. They will offer you up to 10 days to correct and resubmit the form; if you do that, you won’t incur the penalty fine.
How COVID-19 Changed the Rules Between 2020 and 2022
One of the defining changes to our lives came in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. That introduced the term social distancing and made it more difficult to some people to do their job face to face.
For many businesses, this meant switching to remote working so they could continue operating during the height of the pandemic while keeping all their employees safe.
However, that poses a problem for the I-9 form, which requires a real-life check on someone’s identity. To help businesses, the government changed the rules and the penalties for non-compliance.
The COVID-19 changes made it easier for employers to complete the I-9 form even when employees were permanently working remotely.
The changes allowed companies to put in-person checks on hold until after the COVID-19 disruption when meeting with employees in person was safe and practical.
That made it easier for employers to review identity documents like a passport or driving license over a remote link such as a video instead of inspecting the hard copy.
What Penalty Changes between 2020 and 2022 Mean
Here are the details of how the rules changed from 2020 to 2022 and how they affect employers. Where possible, we’ve also explained where rules reverted to pre-2020, pre-COVID-19 regulations.
Employment Eligibility (and Extension to Verification Rules)
The Department for Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a change to how companies verify employees due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The rule change means employers won’t receive i-9 penalties if they cannot verify the in-person identification of workers. That is a significant change from the old system.
These penalty changes were extended until December 2021 and broadened to cover all office/on-site and remote workers due to COVID-19 social distancing and travel restrictions for workers.
I-9 Structural Form Changes
In October 2022, the Department for Homeland Security made changes to the structure of the i-9 form.
That means that any new employees from that date must use the new form, and you could incur a penalty if you inadvertently or deliberately complete the information on the old I-9 form.
However, if you have current employees in the old form style, these are still valid, and you won’t have to complete a new one.
The only exception is if that person stops working for you and you re-hire them again later. In that case, you’ll need to complete the new form for the employee.
i-9 Penalties 2020 Vs. Now
Between 2020 and 2022, penalty charges have increased with inflation. For example, the lowest fine as of 2022 is $252. Back in 2020, that fine was $234.
More considerable fines have increased by the same proportion. They will continue to rise in future years if the Department for Homeland Security ties the penalties to inflation.
How To Avoid a Penalty
Most fines happen because of mistakes on the form rather than deliberate violations. So here is how to avoid making a mistake that could land you an unwelcome penalty.
Misunderstanding a Form Section
The form comes with guidance to employers on how to fill the sections in correctly.
If unsure, don’t assume you know what to put in a form field or section. Check the guidance first. And read the form carefully – some people get caught out because they misread a question.
Form fields will tell you if they are optional or mandatory. Double-check your entry and make sure you’ve completed all required fields. Never leave them blank.
Get Employment Advice
If in doubt, use an employment lawyer. They’ll be able to advise you on how to complete the form accurately and remain legal in your employment policies.
Get a process for recruits to ensure the I-9 is completed promptly, and keep your records organized. Have a filing system and make one person responsible for storing and retrieving them.
Stay Up to Date With Changes
The legal requirements and penalty framework does regularly change.
The structural change to the form in 2022 is a good example. Keep tabs on future changes and the date they will come into force to ensure you still adhere to all rules.
Stay Compliant with i-9 Rules
It always pays to stay on top of any legal duty. And that is the case with the i-9 form and the relevant rules around completing it.
Penalties for getting things wrong are steep, so use this guide to keep you informed. You may even want to bookmark it to remind yourself of what has changed since the 1-9 penalties of 2020.
For more guidance on how to keep your company compliant, browse through our business section now.