Tags: i-9 | audits | businesses | prepared

With Govt Audits on the Rise, Businesses Must Be Prepared

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By    |   Friday, 09 November 2018 06:59 AM

​As the government cracks down on businesses and employee record-keeping, being compliant and organized is essential to avoid penalties.

I-9 audits are on the rise. Between January and July of this year, Homeland Security Investigations served over 5200 Notices of Inspection (NOIs) to businesses across the country — nearly quadruple the number of NOIs issued over that same period in 2017.

A total of 93 arrests came as a result. With the perpetual immigration debate raging and rise of sanctuary cities throughout the country, crackdowns are only likely to increase, threatening businesses who haven’t kept good records.

I-9 audits were introduced in 1986 for verifying worker’s eligibility to work in the United States, and employers are required by law to have a completed (meaning, signed under penalty of perjury) I-9 on file for every employee. If employers don’t follow I-9 requirements precisely, they can be slapped with large fines and even criminal prosecution.

How large? Fines for technical errors and incorrect paperwork can be as little a $220 or as much as $2,200. Knowingly employing someone without authorization to work in the United States, on the other hand, can be punished by a fine $3,548 to $19,242 per violation. Employ several workers without the right paperwork and you could be looking at quite a hefty bill.

In 2017, businesses were ordered to pay a total of $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines, and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines. One company, Asplundh Tree Experts out of Pennsylvania, was hit with a record $95 million in fines — the largest fine ever levied for such violations.

And, financial and legal punishments aside, what about the damage bad press can wreak on a company’s reputation after being caught in violation of the law? How much can that end up costing them in lost business? In an age where a single small mishap can wreck a business’s reputation in mere minutes thanks to the power of social media, even the smallest amount of bad publicity can be disastrous.

Traditionally, legal punishments were mainly dealt to those who flaunted the law, but with crackdowns and audits increasing, no business is immune. When ICE comes knocking, unsuspecting employers with disorganize paperwork are just as likely to find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

And it turns out it’s not just small businesses who haven’t got their act to together. As big retail giants shutter, it’s being discovered that they never bothered to put proper practices for HR files and employee verification into place, either. For example, a blogger at tech blog Hackaday was shocked to discover upon entering a recently-shuttered Toys R Us that important HR files, such as copies of Social Security cards, were simply left lying about. If massive corporations are that careless with their employee’s personal info, how poorly do they keep track of their I-9s?

Unless you’re OK with your business being hit with expensive fines and negative PR fallout, it’s crucial to be prepared. Start by implementing strict protocols for keeping and managing HR records. Upgrading to a secure, digitized system for sequestering HR files and records will be the most beneficial step you can take in ensuring everything is organized and accessible if an audit occurs.

If you are storing electronic I-9s, security and keeping them under lock-and-key is paramount, too. An electronic file storage system is required to have certain measures, including:

  • Controls to ensure the integrity, accuracy and reliability of the system.
  • Controls to detect and prevent the unauthorized or accidental creation, alteration or deletion of stored Forms I-9, including the electronic signature, if used.
  • An inspection and quality assurance program that regularly evaluates the system.
  • Controls to ensure an audit trail so that any alteration or change to the form since its creation is electronically stored and can be accessed by inspectors.

That final measure — an audit trail — is particularly important; whenever an I-9 is accessed or edited a record detailing exactly who accessed it, when they accessed it, and what changes they made, needs to be created.

If you do find yourself on the receiving end of an I-9 audit from ICE, the first thing you should do is call your legal counsel. Don’t turn over any documents without first consulting them; if served with an NOI, you’ll have three days to produce your I-9s for inspection (as well as other documents they have requested). If they’ve been properly digitized and organized, this will be a quick, painless process, and will ensure you still have physical and digital copies of every document handed over.

Prepare in advance, and you’ll avoid the penalties and headaches that non-compliance and incomplete records usually bring.

Larry Bennett, Sr. is the CEO of AccuImage, a 30-year leader in document and information management services based in Santa Clara. Their document processing and information management systems have been used by some of the world’s biggest brands in a variety of industries, including companies such as Nestle, PG&E and NVIDIA.

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​As the government cracks down on businesses and employee record-keeping, being compliant and organized is essential to avoid penalties.
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Friday, 09 November 2018 06:59 AM
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