10 Common Mistakes with Form I-9 (and how to avoid them)

In Chamber Blog, Workforce by admin

The process of completing Form I-9—which confirms an employee’s eligibility to legally work in the United States—has gone through major changes in recent years. Many of these changes were driven by the pandemic, which made it difficult for employers to perform in-person document checks. Pandemic-era regulation is now winding down, and the Department of Homeland Security is taking this opportunity to permanently change the I-9 verification process.

Some of these changes include:

  • A more streamlined Form I-9 (down from two pages to one)
  • Virtual verification of employee documents for employers who participate in E-Verify
  • Improved digital accessibility
  • Translator and Reverification sections have been moved to supplemental pages
  • Some changes to language and layout

These changes will (hopefully!) make things easier in the long run, but compliance changes can always create confusion. Here are some of the most common mistakes we see with I-9s and tips on how to avoid them.

10 most common mistakes in Form I-9

Many of the most common I-9 errors might seem minor, but they can have major consequences. As an employer, you’re responsible for proving that you followed compliance guidelines, which means you must watch out for even the smallest details.

Here are ten things to be mindful of:

1.     Be careful with date formatting

Auditors pay close attention to dates on I-9 documents, and they may reject anything that’s not in the MM/DD/YYYY format. It’s important to be rigorous about using this date format in every instance, including any notes or supplementary documents.

Adhering to one date format will also help you avoid errors in recording the date. For example, people sometimes forget to write the year using a format like “August 16” or “2nd March”. A standardized date format helps ensure that you always get this right.

2.     Never use Wite-Out

Corrections to Form I-9 must be done in a specific way, and using a correction fluid like Wite-Out is strictly forbidden. If you use correction fluid on an I-9, auditors may flag it as an attempt to cover something up.

If you do need to fix something, you can neatly cross out the original error, then write the correct information in the margin. Make sure this extra note is initialed and dated by the person making the correction.

3.     Keep forms separate and accessible

You should keep I-9 documentation in a separate file, away from other personnel records. This is especially important if you are retaining copies of employee IDs, such as their driver's licenses or social security cards.

I-9s should also be accessible, so you can provide documents when required. In the event of an audit, you will have 72 hours to provide all documents—including related documents such as memos and translator records. Keeping all of these together in a single secure location will allow you to act quickly when you need to.

4.     Never backdate or destroy old versions

A good I-9 process will create a fully transparent paper trail, one that shows that you’ve always been fully compliant with all rules. For that reason, it’s important to preserve documents in their original form. Don’t attempt to backdate an I-9 form, and never destroy an old version, even if you have an updated form.

Instead, it’s best practice to keep all versions of the I-9 together. If you run out of room on the existing form, you can create a new one and fill out the relevant pages. Then, attach the new pages to the old form. If necessary, add a memo explaining the reason for any changes or updates.

5.     Ensure documents are legible

Employers who utilize E-Verify are required to keep copies of I-9 documentation. Creating legible documents isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Some offices might have an ancient printer or photocopier—or no copier at all! When managers copy I-9 verification documents, they often end up with smudged, illegible copies that don’t clearly demonstrate the necessary information.

However, auditors won’t accept this excuse. It’s up to you to prove you completed the verification process compliantly, which means you retain legible copies of all documents. Your I-9 process should include legibility as a key step, with managers responsible for ensuring that all documents are clear and easy to read.

6.     Follow the process for signatures

There are detailed rules on how you can collect electronic signatures for an I-9, including:

  • The person signing must confirm that they read the attestation
  • The electronic signature must be digitally attached to a completed I-9
  • Time of signing must be recorded
  • Employers must be able to provide a printed copy of the transaction if required

Ideally, you should use a system like DocuSign or your HRIS system if the system allows.

7.     Watch out for missing information

Ensure the I-9 is completely filled out. One of the most common mistakes is missing required information, like a signature or a date. Remember, only employees can make corrections to Section 1, and only the employer can make corrections to Section 2.

A welcome change with the new form is the removal of the previous requirement to enter 'N/A' in every blank field. With this change, it will be even more important for employers to carefully review each I-9 and ensure corrections are made when they are discovered.

8.     Do not stamp the form

Some organizations like to put their official stamp on forms as a way of adding extra authenticity. Or you might ask a notary to sign some paperwork, and they will generally use a stamp or seal to confirm their signature.

Unfortunately, you can’t do this on an I-9 form. Any kind of stamp, seal, or embossing is against the rules and may render the form invalid. On top of that, a large stamp might cover some of the information on the form, rendering it illegible.

9.     Don’t re-verify if you don’t have to

If you’re signing up for E-Verify, you only have to verify newly hired employees (or employees that require reverification). You do not need to run your current employees through the system.

Some employers have attempted to reverify their teams in the E-Verify system. This creates a huge additional workload without creating any benefit; in fact, it may needlessly create a compliance issue. Also, it may appear as suspicious activity, which increases the chances of triggering an audit.

10.  Only use the English version

Form I-9 is available in English and Spanish, but the Spanish version is only intended for use in Puerto Rico. All other employers must use the English version of the I-9. If a translator is involved, details of that translator’s service can be attached to the I-9 using Supplement A.

This rule has been in place for a long time, but it’s been the cause of much confusion over the years. The updated DHS handbook now goes to great lengths to emphasize that the English I-9 is the only valid version unless you’re in Puerto Rico.

In Closing

As a reminder, the new Form I-9 is now available. Employers may choose to begin using the new form immediately, but the new form is not required to be used until after October 31, 2023. Also, employers who want to utilize the virtual verification procedure for their new hires must be in good standing with E-Verify. Employers who are not currently using E-Verify can sign up at any time and will be required to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and complete the required training prior to utilizing the virtual verification procedures.

This blog post provided by member Kathy Albarado, Founder, Helios HR. Helios HR offers a Form I-9 Toolkit with templates, FAQs, and additional resources, here