“Do it as if your job depended on it.”
That’s the advice one business law attorney is dispensing to farmers and other business owners to underscore the importance of complying with the new federal I-9 form, which will go into effect on May 8.
I-9 compliance, which many business owners, especially farmers and other small business owners, already find difficult, will get even harder when this new form goes into effect, says Tommy Eden, an attorney with Constangy, Brooks and Smith, a national law firm representing large and small business employers throughout the United States.
Three organizations, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Constangy, Brooks and Smith, and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Alabama, are partnering to offer free comprehensive online training to help farmers and other business owners comply with these new requirements.
The training, titled “Untangling the New Form I-9,” is available at http://www.aces.edu/events.
For many business owners, the stakes couldn’t be higher, says Rosemary Elebash, Alabama director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
“It’s absolutely critical that employers and employees alike understand this,” Elebash says. “It’s double the work — two pages instead of one — but it’s the penalty provisions that are most alarming.”
Business owners who don’t fill out these forms correctly are likely to be penalized pretty substantially.”
I-9 compliance procedures are an outgrowth of the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986, which makes it unlawful for employers to knowingly hire or continue to employ individuals who are not legally authorized to work in the United States.
Burden is on employers
Under the act’s provisions, the burden is on employers to check and record the eligibility of each employee by completing out an I-9 form. Every employee hired after Nov. 6, 1986, including U.S. citizens, must have a completed I-9 form on file verifying they are eligible to work.
Penalties for failing to comply with I-9 requirements include civil fines as high as $1,100 for each employee whose I-9 form was not completed, retained or presented properly.
Enforcement of I-9 compliance by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has intensified in recent years. Late November, for example, employers in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts were assessed fines exceeding $560,000 for immigration law violations.
Prison sentences have followed more serious violations.
Monetary penalties can run even higher for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized wokers. First violation fines can total as much $3,200 for each unauthorized employee, while second violation fines can be as high as $6,500. Third violation fines can exceed $16,000 for each unauthorized employee.
The comprehensive online training prepared by Eden and Elebash is designed to help anyone else assigned with hiring employees, such as human resources professionals, supervisors and small business owners, for example, understand all facets of the new I-9 compliance provisions.
“How will this training make your life better as a human resources professional or small business operator? By helping you anticipate the most common errors that may occur in the compliance process,” Eden says.
“This training not only introduces you to the forms and all the supporting documents, but also provides you with step-by-step guidance on various hiring scenarios.”
While the training should be regarded as educational rather than legal advice, Eden says it will help business professionals not only gain a better understanding of how all these forms should be completed, but also how to survive an audit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to avoid civil penalties and possibly even criminal charges.
In the case of human resource professionals, this training may even prove valuable in helping them keep their jobs, Eden says.
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