Recently, a company in California was selected for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) audit, and was hit with $1.5 million in fines for having employees whose I-9 paperwork was not strictly in compliance with regulations. They were also ordered to develop and maintain a compliance program to see that the violations did not recur. What made these fines so high was that the employer had 49 unauthorized workers (as opposed to just making errors on the I-9 forms), let some of them go following the inspection, and then rehired some of those same unauthorized workers. Some of those employees continued working as independent contractors or came back with different names. Because of the blatant nature of the employer’s actions, they could have been subject to criminal penalties, but accepted the large fine and agreed to institute compliance measures to resolve the ICE action. Among other requirements, the company set up new I-9 procedures, must report any immigration violations to ICE within 24 hours, and report compliance to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for two years.

Moral of the story is of course not to engage in such practices but every employer should review its own practices concerning I-9 compliance because errors in filling out the paperwork are subject to fines per I-9 form. Also, it is unlikely that the California food service company that received the large fine was randomly selected. More likely, ICE received a tip from a current or former employee, or competitor.

Certain industries are at particular risk for audit. In our community, those include restaurants, hotels, landscaping and construction companies. In vulnerable industries, it may not be enough to accept the documents from the employee—you may need to use an independent service to ensure the eligibility to work. This is especially true where “Harry” leaves your employ and a few months later, your new employee “Jack” looks an awful lot like former employee “Harry.”

Questions about I-9 compliance? Call us:
(805) 225-1773

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