8 Things Not to Forget When Filling Out I-9 Forms

California employers must also understand new state immigration law

8 Things Not to Forget When Filling Out I-9 Forms

​An uptick in federal immigration enforcement priorities combined with new California rules make it more challenging than ever for employers to ensure immigration compliance. Properly completing and maintaining I-9 forms is essential.

Mistakes on I-9 forms are common, and employers may not even know their forms have errors until they are audited, said Sean Olender, an employment immigration attorney in San Jose, Calif. He was speaking at the California State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management's 2018 California State Legislative & HR Conference in Sacramento.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Retain and File I-9 Forms]

Here are some of the key things he said employers shouldn't do when filling out I-9 forms:

  1. Don't pressure an employee to provide a specific document—the employee may provide any document the list allows. Employees need to provide either one item from List A or one item each from List B and List C.
  2. Don't forget that employees must complete every applicable field in Section 1 of the I-9 form except the fields requesting a telephone number, e-mail address and Social Security number. However, employees must enter their Social Security number if the employer participates in E-Verify.
  3. Don't forget to ensure that employees provide their date of birth and address.
  4. When completing Section 2, don't ask employees to provide a document with their alien or "A" number, or otherwise specify which documents employees may present. But remember that employees with an "A" number must still list it when completing Section 1. 
  5. Don't forget to write "individual under age 18" if the employee is a minor and provides only a List C document.
  6. Don't forget to ensure that employees check one status box (citizen, permanent resident or work-authorized alien).
  7. When you change an I-9, don't forget to line out the old text, make an annotation, and sign and date it. Use the margins to annotate the form, and attach an additional sheet if more room is needed.
  8. Don't forget to print your name next to your signature.

Employers should audit their I-9 forms and procedures to ensure compliance. If they use an attorney to conduct an audit, all communications with the attorney are protected by privilege, Olender noted. However, if the audit is conducted internally or by a nonattorney, communications, including e-mail, phone calls, text messages, documents, reports and other records created for the audit, are not subject to the attorney-client privilege.

California Conundrum

There is a widening fissure between California and the federal government centered around immigration laws, said Michael Nader, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Sacramento. California's Immigration Worker Protection Act (AB 450) protects workers from immigration enforcement by prohibiting employers from providing "voluntary consent" to federal immigration enforcement agents to access "any nonpublic areas of a place of labor." Employers will not be penalized, however, for permitting federal agents with judicial warrants or subpoenas to access the workplace and records.

[Do you need to learn more about employment-related immigration? Looking for some recertification credits for your HR credential? See these SHRM eLearning courses on how to manage immigration in your workplace. Many SHRM eLearning programs offer professional development credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials.]

California employers must also comply with the act's notification and posting requirements regarding inspections of I-9 forms or other employment records, said Elizabeth Stonhaus, an attorney with Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck in San Francisco. Employers that violate the act are subject to civil penalties of $2,000 to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 to $10,000 for each subsequent violation.

"Not only are California's employers grappling with the statute's basic meaning, they have also been placed at the center of an ongoing federal pre-emption controversy," Stonhaus noted. The federal government filed a lawsuit in March against California, arguing that AB 450 and other recently enacted California immigration laws are unconstitutional.

"For now, employers should communicate with their employees about the appropriate individuals to handle communications with immigration enforcement agencies," she said.



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