I-9 Compliance Steps to Keep Your Employees Properly Documented
By Michael Wildes Partner , Wildes & Weinberg | September 02, 2010
Verifying employment eligibility is a complicated task for all businesses but it poses particular difficulties for the hotel industry. As a high-volume and often seasonally driven business with very high turnover, juggling employment eligibility verification forms (also known as Form I-9) can be a deceptively tall order. Despite the challenges, taking the time to familiarize oneself with Form I-9 compliance is a worthwhile investment in order to avoid weighty fines or possible criminal penalties.
Every employee hired after November 6, 1986 should have an I-9 form on record demonstrating that your company performed a good faith effort to verify that person's employment eligibility. The seasonal nature of the hotel industry, however, often demands that employees be hired, let go and sometimes rehired as the volume of business requires. When an employee is rehired, one must once again undertake the responsibility of verifying that person's eligibility to work in the United States. Depending upon the given circumstances, a rehire may be re-verified on either Section 3 of his or her original I-9 or on a new form entirely.
Since taking up the reins in January 2009, the Obama administration has switched its focus from Bush-era worksite raids to an increased emphasis on employer hiring policies in the fight to curb illegal immigration. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has been auditing the I-9 forms of companies suspected of engaging in illegal hiring practices. Possible repercussions for improperly handled or maintained I-9 forms may range from civil penalties of $110 to $1,100 per violation, to criminal penalties of up to $3,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment per employee for engaging in a pattern of knowingly hiring unauthorized aliens.
Though the I-9 form itself comprises just one page, filling it out correctly can be a surprisingly difficult task, as evidenced by the nearly sixty-page booklet that accompanies it. The M-274 Handbook for Employers is published by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and is intended to answer any questions you may have about the I-9 form and the employment eligibility verification process. We've taken a moment to outline here some tips and good practices that may help you in your efforts to properly document all your employees:
1) Read and refer to the M-274
It's not a riveting read but the M-274 Handbook for Employers is clearly written and offers a comprehensive breakdown of which documents are valid for proof of identity and employment eligibility, as well as providing directives for more specific scenarios, such as filling out the I-9 form for minors, for special placement employees with disabilities, and how to process employees with temporary employment eligibility. Especially relevant for the hotel industry are the instructions on reverifying rehired employees (p.12), as mentioned earlier. Also, hospitality groups hiring foreign-born workers will be greatly aided by the M-274's guidance on verifying these employees' eligibility documents. For example, a foreign-born person arriving on a J-1 visa (Nonimmigrant exchange visitors), such as through the Work and Travel USA program, must proffer an unexpired foreign passport, an I-94 form, and a DS-2019 form specifying the sponsor. If that employee is working outside of the program indicated on the DS-2019, he or she must provide a letter from his/her responsible school officer (M-274, p. 54). Please be aware that the J-1 visa encompasses several different categories of student exchange visitors and not all will be eligible to work. In short, members of the hospitality industry may encounter situations that step outside the "typical" I-9 and deriving your answers from the M-274 should serve you well.