Listen up, employers: On August 1 — that’s two days ago! — the Department of Homeland Security increased the Form I-9 violation fines by approximately 96%. Specifically, the range of fines for violations went from $110-$1,100 per Form I-9 to $216 -$2,156 per Form I-9. This could be particularly problematic for larger companies, as an untrained staff person completing numerous I-9s incorrectly can lead to an exorbitant amount in fines. On the other hand, smaller companies have less in volume but sometimes they can commit more substantive errors which can lead to fines on the higher-side of the range. Both are bad results that your business should want to avoid.
A very recent I-9 violation case tells a sobering story. A California-based organic food company was selected for an audit, and due to its hiring of unauthorized workers, it ended up paying $1.5 million in fines and having to institute a compliance program. What made the fines so steep was that the employer had hired 49 unauthorized workers (as opposed to just making errors on the I-9 forms), let some of them go following the inspection, and then rehired some of those same unauthorized workers. Some employees were not even terminated but continued working as independent contractors or assumed aliases. Given the seriousness of these violations, the employer could have received more than a monetary penalty (i.e., criminal sanctions), but in return for a lesser sentence (only $1.5 million but no criminal charges) the company agreed to set up a corporate compliance program for its I-9 procedures, report any immigration violations within 24 hours, and present a compliance report to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for two years.
If your company has never undergone an internal I-9 audit with the assistance of an immigration attorney with experience in this area, or if it has been more than two years since your last audit, we strongly recommend that you conduct an audit now. Doing so will remedy some or all of the I-9 violations that might already exist and can further help you to systemize as much of the I-9 completing procedure as possible. In addition, a history of an internal audit can be a mitigating factor during a future I-9 audit by the government.
The odds of being selected for a government I-9 audit may be relatively small, but in the unlucky event your company is selected, making the internal audit a regular practice will go a long way in protecting your company’s assets, longevity, and image.