The Pitfalls of Self-Auditing Your I-9’s
Government audits of the I-9 form have been on the rise and small companies, especially restaurants, are finding themselves under greater scrutiny from ICE (the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Not only are small business owners expected to have their data and forms properly filled out, verified, and available but they are expected to do so within 72 hours when an ICE agent appears at their business to give notice of an audit. With the short deadline applied to a requirement that appears without warning, “Self-Audits” have become common in the restaurant industry but, much like performing “DIY” electrical work, they have caveats that can lead your company into shocking circumstances if not executed properly. With penalties that can range from just over $100 per form with incident to over $1,000 per form with incident or criminal charges in specific instances, restaurants with a normally high turnover rate can risk a very large liability if they are not compliant.
There are a number of dangers that await the uninformed or even vaguely negligent business owner:
1. “Voluntary Audits” or “Self-Audits” are not required by law or regulation but are truly the best way for a company to be sure that they are prepared for inevitable moment when the Federal Agent appears. With a 72-hour window to have all paperwork present and correct, there is little time to gather data, check it, address any faults correctly, and present it. A “Voluntary Audit” by a trained professional beforehand takes this from a hurried rush that often includes gathering data from sources that simply cannot comply within the inspection time limit to a process that can be thorough and well documented. This minimizes not only risks from mistakes but also allows the company to present itself as a proactive partner in the government audit process, which is always useful for diffusing minor complaints or issues with government auditors.
2. Errors in requesting data, filling out records, keeping records, adjusting records, updating forms, and decision making regarding the legitimacy or validity of employee submissions are all liabilities for business owners that can carry financial penalties or, in some cases, criminal charges. With small issues like how employee data is requested having larger than expected implications, seeking the assistance of a professional Human Resources specialist to go over the company’s records and processes can be a very small outlay to avoid a very large possible loss.
3. Non-compliance with federal regulations can be a costly but hidden financial loss that will slowly build unhindered over time until it is uncovered with drastic and painful results. Having a Human Resources professional bring a company into compliance can not only alleviate the loss from past mistakes but should also help avoid the expensive fines in the future. A regular annual professional audit of I-9 records and regular professional training for a company’s hiring managers will help keep federal regulators from becoming the stuff of business owner nightmares.
For companies that take a proactive approach to staying not only compliant but well documented, the appearance of any inspector or regulator is simply another task to be dealt with in “business as usual”. For those that do not plan ahead or simply wager their assets on the line of “should be good enough” without doing their due diligence, that government agent can become the harbinger of not just financial ruin but great personal loss for the business owner. What path does your company choose?
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