The process of having new employees complete Form I-9 is essential to ensuring new hires are authorized to work in the U.S. – a required step in maintaining workforce compliance. Yet the task can introduce some significant difficulties when hiring employees outside the immediate vicinity of trained HR professionals. In such instances, employers must still meet their obligations to review, sign and file Form I-9 within the three business days of a new hire’s commencement, even if they live in another state.
As the face of the workforce continues to change, one of the biggest factors impacting compliance today is the rise of the remote worker. Whether providing employees the ability to work from home to achieve greater work/life balance or by hiring talent outside the immediate location in order to fill key gaps, the remote workforce continues to rise. In fact, according to data from FlexJobs, the number of off-site job postings grew by a considerable 26 percent from 2013 to 2014.
But as companies continue to expand their remote employee hiring, it is important that I-9 processes remain a priority. At a time when industry estimates suggest that 60 to 80 percent of Forms I-9 contain errors, and employers can be fined an average fee of $935 per incorrect form, it is crucial that they get the I-9 completion process for their remote employees right the first time.
Challenges of Remote Form I-9 Completion
Form I-9 is designed to confirm the identity of new hires and that they are authorized to work in the U.S. by ensuring they have the necessary documentation. Though only two pages long, Form I-9 is incredibly complex; it even includes a 70-page manual on how to complete it properly. Yet, common mistakes continue to occur, whether employers accidentally use an outdated version of the form, conduct “document abuse” (e.g., completing all three lists in Section 2 of required documents) or rely on inexperienced or insufficiently trained completers to manage the process.
As remote new hires may not always be in close proximity to a company office and since there are a number of obstacles that emerge, maintaining compliance is further complicated. For instance, it can be costly to have the new hire travel to a company facility to complete the process. In addition, the person responsible for completing Section 2 of the Form I-9 must be present with the new employee, so the company must then make use of an authorized representative near the employee. Yet, even when using an authorized representative to complete Section 2, the company still retains liability. Another difficulty arises in documenting the form’s completion and ensuring it is filed and stored compliantly.
Steps to Support I-9 Compliance
So, what can companies do to ensure accurate and timely Form I-9 completion, even when they can’t be physically present to inspect a new hire’s documentation? The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows employers to leverage an authorized representative to review employees’ documents and sign Section 2 of Form I-9. Yet doing so can often lead to confusion; for instance, if the completer is part of a network and lists the name of the network rather than the name of the employer, the employer cannot fix this error, as the person who examines the document must be the one who signs it.
Many Form I-9 vendors also rely on public notaries to complete Section 2 for the clients with remote employees. This too can introduce risk. Notaries are not authorized to complete Section 2 in their capacity as notaries, meaning they are not allowed to attach their stamp or seal to the form instead of a signature. A Form I-9 with a seal instead of a signature on Section 2 will not be considered acceptable.
Given these challenges when completing Form I-9 for remote employees, what is the best way forward? Consider the following best practices for remote I-9 completion:
- Assemble a network of trusted agents in locations in line with the company’s hiring needs and who can serve as authorized representatives.
- Ensure key stakeholders and those representatives are aware of remote new hires in order to meet the three-day completion rule for Form I-9 and E-Verify, if the latter is applicable.
- Screen members of the completer network and provide necessary training so authorized completers understand how to complete Form I-9 successfully.
- Improve remote hiring and on-boarding through electronic processing of Form I-9 and E-Verify; doing so can improve accuracy, efficiency and consistency while enabling integration with automated on-boarding and talent management systems.
- Provide designated completers with 24/7 access to be able to complete the forms to create an auditable trail and ensure verified signature capture and storage and retention are secure.
- Improve compliance by introducing standard operating procedures for Form I-9 and E-Verify completion for authorized completers and new hires alike.
A Successful Approach to Remote Hiring
As the nature of work continues to evolve and more companies find themselves managing a growing remote workforce, it is critical that they have the resources in place to facilitate a more compliant strategy for hiring and on-boarding their remote employees. That should begin with a consistent approach to Form I-9 completion – one that ensures the forms are completed and signed by authorized representatives who understand the I-9 process. As result, organizations can promote hiring success, wherever they hire employees.