July 7th, 2014 | Sterling

I-9 Violations Can Cost You Six Figures

I-9 Violations Can Cost You Six Figures | SterlingBackcheck

Compliance is crucial for employers and even the slightest errors in process can have pricey ramifications. As innocent as they may seem, the costs associated with I-9 violations can rack up fast. Simply missing a check box or forgetting to sign on the dotted line could potentially drain your bank account if you are audited by the government. The costs aren’t limited to fines. You will also rack up legal fees hiring lawyers to represent and defend your company. There have been numerous cases of employers violating I-9 regulations both intentionally and unintentionally, and in many cases the costs have skyrocketed to six figures.

An employer based in Americus, Georgia was recently penalized for I-9 Form violations. A construction contractor was slapped with $228,300 in fines. The company was audited in May 2010 after an article was published quoting an employee who claimed the company was employing undocumented workers. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came across the article and initiated an audit to investigate the matter further.

The employer provided ICE with 342 I-9’s for current and terminated employees upon receipt of a Notice of Inspection (NOI). The forms were audited and 339 violations were documented, 87 of which were due to forms not prepared or could not be provided to ICE for investigation. The other 252 violations included a variety of errors primarily revolving around incomplete information and missing signatures. Additionally, the employer was using a rubber stamp to pre-sign the forms before employees were even hired, which is considered a false attestation.

The construction contractor was originally fined a penalty of $981.75 per violation, totaling $332,813.25. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ellen K. Thomas subsequently reduced the penalty by more than $200 per violation. After the fine reduction, the employer was left with an assessed penalty of $228,300.

Attorneys for the employer claimed that ICE did not fully name 52 of the employees, as many were only identified with three capital letters, which were provided by the Georgia Department of Labor. The construction contractor attempted to draw comparisons to United States v. Siwan & Sons; however, the ALJ disagreed alluding to a more recent decision from the 2014 case United States v. Symmetric Solutions where the employer was found liable for 64 violations despite no name provided by ICE. The company also claimed that certain violations should be considered technical rather than substantive and tried to reverse the ruling of a previous decision. They were unsuccessful.

So what can you do to make sure your company doesn’t end up on the losing end of a six-figure fine? Before you do anything else, first check that you understand your responsibilities as an employer as it relates to Form I-9. Design your compliance policy around these responsibilities and consider implementing internal audits to identify opportunities for potential errors or mistakes.

To simplify this process, you can take advantage of SterlingBackcheck’s comprehensive new I-9 Management Solution. Find out more here.

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