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I-9 Best Practices

Posted on June 21, 2018

With the recent increase in immigration enforcement priorities, employers should ensure that they are correctly completing and maintaining I-9 forms for their employees.

What is an I-9?

The I-9 form is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for everyone they hire for employment in the United States. This includes citizens and noncitizens. I-9 forms must be completed with the first 3 days of employment for a new hire. On the form, an employee must attest to his or her employment authorization. The employee must also present the employer with acceptable documents evidencing identity and employment authorization. The employer must examine the employment eligibility and identity document(s) an employee presents to determine whether the document(s) reasonably appear to be genuine and to relate to the employee and record the document information on the Form I-9. 

Completing an I-9

  • Verify that the employee completed every applicable field in Section 1 of the I-9 form. 
  • Remember that the employer cannot stipulate which documents an employee must bring in for verification. The employee may provide any document the list allows. Employees need to provide either one item from List A or one item each from List B and List C.
  • Employees with an “A” number must list it when completing Section 1. 
  • Ensure that employees check one status box (citizen, permanent resident or work-authorized alien).
  • If you need to correct information on the I-9, line out the old text, make an annotation, and sign and date it. Use the margins to annotate the form and attach an additional sheet if more room is needed.

I-9 Retention Best Practices

The following simple steps can clarify best practices for ensuring organizations file and retain their I-9 forms in a manner that is ready for an audit or inspection and that meets both Form I-9 retention requirements. Current employees should always have a Form I-9 on file.

  1. Maintain Separately from Personnel Records- keep in a file (electronic or hard copy) or binder that is accessible only to a few individuals in the human resource department. Supervisors or managers should not have regular access to I-9 forms and documents because national origin, immigration status, marital status and other protected information may be disclosed on these forms or in the documents provided for their completion.
  2. File Active Employee I-9s Alphabetically- Active employee I-9 records are often maintained alphabetically by the last name so that they can be easily audited against a current payroll list.
  3. File Terminated Employee Separately- When an employee is terminated, pull their Form I-9 from the active employee section and determine retention requirements. 
  4. Assess Retention Requirements- Place a sticky note or some other removable notation (do not write on the I-9 form itself) with 2 dates: 
  5. One year after termination date (i.e. if an employee terminates on May 2, 2018, the one year after will be May 2, 2019)
  6. Three years after hire date (i.e. if an employee’s hire date was November 15, 2017, the three years after hire date will be November 15, 2020)
  7. Establish the latest of the two dates above and this is your retention date. The I-9 must be retained until this date.
  8. Organize Terminated Employees’ I-9s Chronologically by Retention Date- It is the most efficient to file terminated employees’ I-9s chronologically according to their circled retention date.
  9. Shred Terminated Employees’ I-9s Past Retention Date

Auditing I-9s

If you discover problems with your I-9s, consider taking the following actions: 

Missing I-9s

If you have missing I-9s, you should complete the current version of the I-9 as soon as possible. You should not backdate the form when you sign it, although you should indicate the actual date employment began in the relevant section.

Missing or Incorrect Information on the I-9

The employer should not make any corrections to Section 1. If you find incorrect or missing information in this section, the employee will need to make any necessary corrections. To do so, the employee should draw a line through the incorrect information, enter the correct or missing information, and initial and date the corrected or missing information.

If an I-9 for a former employee contains incorrect or missing information, you can attach a signed and dated statement to the existing I-9 identifying the incorrect or missing information in the form and explaining that the I-9 cannot be corrected because the employee is no longer employed by you.

Employers should follow the same procedure for missing or incorrect information is in Sections 2 or 3. You should not try to conceal changes made to I-9s, either by erasing or covering up existing information. If there are too many errors to correct, you can redo the sections (2 and/or 3) containing errors on a new I-9 with the complete and accurate information, sign and date it with the current date, and staple it to the existing I-9. 

Whether you correct an I-9 on the existing form or on a new form, you should also always attach a signed and dated explanation of the action taken.

If Sections 2 or 3 were not completed on the existing form, you should complete them as soon as possible, list the actual date that the person’s employment began and sign and date the section with the current date. Also, attach a signed and dated explanation of the steps taken to correctly complete the I-9.

Lauren Sims is the article’s author and the Director of Human Resources.

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