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    Don't get hit with an I-9 fine

    Not being able to present I-9 forms could have big repercussions for your practice.

    You don’t want to be in the position of the New York dentist who was fined more than $5,000 for failing to present proper I-9 forms for employees at his dental office.

    Dr. Robert Schaus, of Clarence, N.Y., had argued that he did not need to retain the I-9 forms of current employees who had worked for the practice for more than three years. The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer rejected this defense as fundamentally “wrong as a matter of law.”

    It’s a big mistake that small business owners often make when it comes to Form I-9 compliance, according to immigration attorney John Fay, who is vice president and general counsel at LawLogix.

    Related link: Top 10 business tips for practices

    Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired to work in the United States. U.S. law requires companies to employ only people who may legally work in the United States – either U.S. citizens or foreign citizens who have the necessary approval.

    The dentist thought that after three years he could throw away the forms, Fay says. “That’s not true. He tried to make the argument that the people have been here for a while and he shouldn’t be penalized, but the law is black and white. Retention of forms is a big problem. People destroy them right after three years. We see that a lot.”

    Schaus originally was penalized $10,030, but the fine was later reduced to $5,400.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are now conducting I-9 audits more frequently and small employers tend to be disproportionally affected, Fay notes. “It’s more in the construction and retail industries, but there are a lot in health care.”

    Related link: Documentation key for new hires

    Small business owners run into lots of different kinds of trouble with I-9 compliance, according to Fay. “Many times, they use the wrong version of the form. Many times they don’t know how to review documents. The bane of employers is: How far can I go to verify that someone can work? You have to be careful not to discriminate. You can’t have a policy of hiring only U.S. citizens. It’s a delicate balance.”

    Also, business owners sometimes confuse I-9 compliance with E-Verify, which is a free Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. “Sometimes they start doing E-Verify and don’t do the I-9 Form. It’s not either/or,” he says.

     

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    Stephenie Overman
    Stephenie Overman has written about workplace and health issues for Fortune.com, HR Magazine, Employee Benefits News, the Los Angeles ...

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