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USCIS is using new I-9 forms starting January, are you in compliance!?

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) January 2017 brings changes to the I-9 form, alongside the increased penalties for non-compliance regarding their completion and retention just enacted in August 2016. Now’s the time to take a look at what’s different.

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What’s new?

With January 2017 bringing changes to the I-9 form, alongside the increased penalties for non-compliance regarding their completion and retention just enacted in August 2016, it’s a good time to take a look at what’s different, as well as the possible ramifications if you’re not completing them correctly.

Changes to the form I-9

The current I-9 form doesn’t look like a technically complex document, but it’s got the potential for both the new employee and the HR professional assisting them to make costly mistakes. The new revisions attempt to address many of the sources of common errors, all of which can lead to fines for the employers. Revisions include:

Information Verification Assistance: Select fields of the new I-9 form will have tools in place to ensure that numerical information (such as Social Security numbers or dates) are entered correctly, by using calendars and drop-down menus to provide information. QR codes are also now generated for each form once printed to allow for ease of tracking documents in audits.

Document Aids: The new I-9 will have instructions embedded within the document to assist users in knowing exactly what to do. These will be supported by intuitive spots that allow the user to access the instructions on demand, as well as print and clear the form, as desired. HR professionals will appreciate the addition of an area that’s solely dedicated for the entry of required information, such as Temporary Protected Status or Optional Practical Training extensions, which is now currently placed in the margins, lacking a permanent place.

Substantive Changes:  There are several substantive changes in addition to the cosmetic ones.

Section 1 changes to provide additional space to enter the names of multiple preparers and/or translators, along with an affidavit statement if the employee didn’t use any assistance in completing their I-9. Additionally, the requirement that employees use all other names has been changed to only reflect the need to provide all other last names. Finally, immigrants are no longer required to provide their I-94 Form number and their foreign passport information.

Section 2 provides a new “Citizenship/Immigration Status” field.

Instructions have also been separated from the form. These are still required to be provided to the employee when filling out the I-9 form. Although there are a great number of electronic enhancements to the form, it does not yet meet the definition of an electronic I-9 as found under the law. Employers will still be required to have the new employees complete the form, print it, and obtain a hard signature.

Why do I care?

Because ignorance is expensive, and lack of compliance with this requirement can not only be costly, but can prevent your business from being able to bid for government contracts or receive federal benefits.  Not enough?

If employers responsible for ensuring the completion of the forms are found to have falsified documents or otherwise acted in bad faith, you can go to jail.

How expensive? New penalty schedules placed into effect by the Justice Department raise the minimum fines for paperwork violations from $110 to $216 and maximums to ten times that amount, jumping from $1,100 to $2,156. These penalties are for each incorrect I-9 form. For those companies which choose to knowingly hire undocumented workers, first offender penalties now range from $539 to $4,313 per employee. For companies who have done this more than once, or who show a pervasive pattern of hiring ineligible employees, fines now range from $6,469 to $21,563 for each ineligible employee hired.

“It is more important now than ever for companies big and small to make sure they have effective policies and procedures in place for properly ‘I-9ing’ employees during the onboarding process,” said Mitch Wexler, an immigration attorney speaking to the Society for Human Resource Management on the issue.  “This includes a regular review of existing I-9s and training staff that touch this critical function.”

Ok, so that sounds bad, but what’s the real risk? In 2013, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for enforcement of the correct completion of I-9 forms, levied over $15 million in fines to nearly 700 companies for their lack of compliance, along with the arrest of 179 employers for their complicity in falsifying or incorrectly completing the I-9 forms.

This is a problem that can quickly spiral out of containment for you once an audit happens, even for seemingly minor clerical mistakes.

What should I do?

While the completion of the I-9 document may seem like a trivial detail, it’s obviously one that can cause you to meet a significant pain point if not done correctly and in time.

Know Your Responsibilities
Knowing the basic requirements and the retention schedules will go a long way towards ensuring that you don’t run afoul of the law. Let’s review:

  • You have to do it: I-9 forms are required to be completed at any time you hire someone in exchange for wages or items of value (such as food or lodging). The requirement is applicable to employees hired after November 6, 1986. For employees hired before that date and who have been continuous in their employment and the expectation of continued employment, the requirement doesn’t apply.
  • You have to do it fairly quickly: The I-9 form must be completed in a timely fashion. Employees must complete Section 1 at the time of hire, which is the first day of employment. They can fill out Section 1 at the time that you make the job offer, and they accept but not sooner. As the employer, you’ve got to review the employee’s document selection from Columns A, B, or C and complete Section 2 within three business days of hire. This isn’t negotiable. If they can’t provide you those documents, or if you can’t get to Section 2 within three business days, they shouldn’t be working. If you’re new employee is a hire for fewer than three business days, then Sections 1 and 2 must be completed at the time of hire.
  • You have to know what documents are required: The employee’s responsible for showing you original, unexpired documents that establish their identity and employment authorization. The employee has the right to choose what documents they present to you. They must provide one from List A (identity and employment authorization), or one from List B (identity only) and one from List C (employment authorization only). For E-Verify participants, only List B documents with a photograph are acceptable.

This process needs to be done face-to-face with the new employee; federal regulations require that the new employee be physically present with the examiner during the review of documents.

All documents presented must be authentic and unexpired. You may copy the documents that the employee provides to you, but you must do it for all of your employees, regardless of their citizenship status or nation of origin.

  • You have to keep them handy: The I-9 form must be kept separately from the employee’s personnel file, and must be retained for as long as the employee works for the company. Once they’ve moved on, the retention rules shift; you must determine the later of these two conditions: three years after hire date, or one year after the day that the employee terminates employment. I-9 forms can be maintained in multiple formats (paper or electronic), but must be accessible for review and audit.

Don’t be sketchy

Acting in bad faith is a quick path to see fines increased to the maximum and run the real risk of going to jail. If you find yourself in a situation that tempts you to alter dates, forge signatures, or hire those without proper documentation, think long and hard.

While a federal audit might be years in coming, or never come at all, is this the type of business practice that you want to maintain? Is that who you are?

Be careful of allowing even small ethical lapses slide into your business practices; what’s a small intentional oversight in this corner today can easily be spread to others tomorrow.

Furthermore, that teaches your employees that it’s acceptable to cut corners, and once that attitude festers and takes root, it’s nearly impossible to predict the amounts of damage that it can cause.

Train, train, train and audit, audit, audit

Make certain that the trained staff who handles these documents are also well-trained on their responsibilities and the proper procedures to take when completing them. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) department has wonderful training aids to assist in ensuring that your employees know what to do, and the Society for Human Resource Management is a resource for FAQ and good practical, in-the-trenches advice on pitfalls and scenarios that HR professionals face daily.

Beyond training, ensure that you take the time as a part of your annual HR calendar to set a time to perform a self-audit of current and stored I-9 files.

By making certain that you’re well trained on how to properly complete these forms, and taking the time on a regular basis to self-identify and correct any mistakes on forms, you’ll be moving towards full compliance and have nothing to fear in case of that eventual audit.

#I9

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Business Entrepreneur

How to stay focused and motivated when you work from home

(ENTREPRENEURSHIP) Do you find it impossible to stay on task when you work from home? Check out our tips for maintaining focus and motivation when working remotely.

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When you work from home, it is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you technically never have to get dressed. However, you also end up with every possible distraction at your fingertips. Staying focused can be difficult even if you’re Type A, which I certainly am not.

Although I’m no expert in time management, I’ve managed to hone my borderline ADD attention span into productivity with the following tactics.

1. Define your workspace

First things first, you need somewhere to get work done. While some people may be able to get everything done from bed, for others the temptation to nap the day away is far too tempting. Get yourself a desk, or turn a table into a temporary workspace. Just make sure if you have kids or family at home while you’re working, they understand the boundaries of your zone.

Setting up camp in the living room isn’t going to help you if the kids are using it as a play space, and hiding out in a guest bedroom won’t provide much privacy if you didn’t let anyone know that it’s now temporarily your cubicle. Consider making a do not disturb sign for the door, or using shelves to define boundaries in a room.

2. Create a schedule

Okay, I know it’s obvious, but making a schedule for yourself is the next step after setting up a workspace. Determine what needs to get done and when, and share this with your housemates, kids, or whoever else is around. It’s easier to stay focused if you clearly define when you’re working so any potential distractions known when to leave you alone and for how long.

3. Determine productivity

Are you more of a morning person or do you get everything done post afternoon nap? Figure out when your most productive time is and set your schedule accordingly.

You won’t get much done if you’re a night owl forcing yourself to slam out projects at 6AM. Of course, you can work outside of your productivity zone, but you may make yourself miserable in the process.

4. Remove distractions

Nothing is going to get done if your phone is blowing up with texts, your favorite TV show is on, and that fun quiz someone sent you on Facebook is up in one tab while your personal email is open in another. Set your phone to silent if you’re able, or at the very least, let your most frequent contacts know that you’re working.

If you’re like me and have very little self-control when it comes to browsing your favorite sites, you may consider installing a browser plug-in that limits how long you can spend on certain sites, or even temporarily block sites during certain times of the day.

5. Set a timer

Once you’ve created a schedule, widely shared it with your most distractible folks, and are ready to get down to business… there’s still distractions. You know you’re working on something for the next hour and half, but it’s dragging out forever and you can’t stop checking the clock to see if it’s break time yet.

Set a timer on your phone, computer, kitchen timer, or even your microwave. This way you can remain focused and have something externally alerting you when time’s up.

6. Reward system

It works for kids, it can work for you too. Setting up a reward system may help boost motivation, and can be as simple as “if I work for two hours solid on this project, I can watch one episode of this TV show.”

Give yourself a reasonable goal and incentive to complete that goal if the project itself isn’t inspiring internal motivation. I’m a fan of dessert based rewards, but you do you.

7. Go somewhere else

When all else fails, don’t work at home. If you’re able to, get out of the house and go to a coffee shop, library, or coworking space. Shame yourself into working by telling yourself everyone around you knows when you’re distracted. Or you know, find motivation by surrounding yourself with others who are being productive.

8. Power in numbers

Join a group of other freelancers or remote employees to create a support system. While this may open you up to more distractions, having others around who share the same struggle of remote work could help increase your productivity. Some people are more motivated when working independently in a group setting. Give it a try to find out if you’re part of that crew.

Ultimately, you know yourself and what distracts you.

Try to remove as many distractions as possible, and create a realistic schedule for yourself. No one will benefit from working eight hours straight without a break. Give yourself a chance to test out different techniques and figure out what works best for you.

You’re not a failure if setting up shop in the library ends up making you less productive. Just try another setting, or rearranging your home workspace. Ultimately, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success with a clear schedule, a clean workspace, and some sort of break/reward system. You can work out the other details as you go.

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Business Entrepreneur

Why CloudApp needs to be in your business toolkit

(EDITORIAL) CloudApp is simple yet powerful for any sized business, keeping your productivity at an all-time high.

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Are you fed up of screenshotting something and taking the time to drag it into a Slack window to share with an employee for them to ask you what you meant by this. Well, so was I. Working remotely occasionally has its blunders when it comes to communication, the struggles of explaining what you meant without the need to meet via a video call or jump over to another person’s desk can sometimes be a tricky situation to be in.

This is the same for in-office situations too. There’s been plenty of times in an office where I’ve had to break my own workflow or someone else’s to head over to their desk to visually explain something. A potentially useful period of time.

A few weeks ago, this pretty much came to a stop. After receiving two emails during a week in October with two types of link attachments, I was curious what they were. Clicking into these links, I got a visual demonstration of what the person was speaking about. I was so impressed. From a screen demo of a website to how something worked and what buttons to click to get a desired outcome. I was blown off my feet.

Simple as it was, the app is called CloudApp. Both available on Windows and Mac, CloudApp’s primary goal was allowing users to capture these moments like a screenshot or a screen record to help explain the thing in front of you, with little worries. The magic didn’t stop there, once I started playing with CloudApp, I recorded a short demo of a site bug/issue that we had and instantly I heard a “ping”. The recording was captured and ready in a paste-able link.

Within seconds, I sent over the visual demonstration. Dead simple, hugely effective.

By the end of the working day, I had visually explained 98% of things in Slack conversations, emails, mobile texts and even to those I was sitting near. It was a crazy addition to my Mac and productivity across my day and it didn’t stop there.

CloudApp also did a host of beneficial things like allow you to annotate images or screenshots, create GIFs, upload files and even record webcam videos too to support your screenshots.

I would recommend CloudApp to everyone. I was so impressed with their toolkit.

The freemium account is great too. You get unlimited screenshots and annotation with 15s of GIF and screen record creation, which was so reasonable for someone getting started. There are additional pricing options too. CloudApp is available for Mac and Windows and is well worth installing to take full advantage of visually explaining things to friends, colleagues, and those struggling to get a drift of what you are trying to talk about.

Download CloudApp for Mac and Windows.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to determine your freelance rates based on data, not your gut

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Setting freelancer rates can be quite the tricky business. This tool does arms you with the data you need to grow your business

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The bulk of my professional career has been spent as a freelancer. The designation of “freelancer” has taken me on an interesting path that allowed for projects and opportunities I didn’t even know existed.

While I’m grateful for each and every opportunity, I now look back on some of these experiences and realize that I was vastly underpaid. For the most part, this is my fault as someone paying for a service is looking for the lowest possible rate and I never bothered to bargain out of fear of losing the role.

It was even at a point where I dreaded being asked my hourly rate because I didn’t know what the norm was. There was always a fear of charging too much and getting dropped for someone cheaper, or charging too little and looking inexperienced.

We recently talked about knowing your worth and how we freelancers often under charge for our services. Luckily, as this career path becomes more and more popular, there are now more resources devoted to helping us know what to charge.

Such a resource comes in the form of Freelance Rates Explorer. Created by Bonsai, this online tool gives users the ability explore rates from 40,000 freelancers worldwide.

“There are many sites like Glassdoor that offer salary data comparisons for full time employees,” said the tool’s developers. “However, there isn’t a site like this dedicated to provide insights on freelancers rates. We had this data, so we built the Rate Explorer to make it easy for freelancers to compare their rates in the largest publicly available rates database on the Internet.”

In order to find the standard rate for their field, users will input their role (either development or design), their skills (full stack, front-end, back-end, DevOps, iOS, and Android), experience (in years), and location. The Rate Explorer then generates a bar graph based on the answers and will show the most common hourly rates based on the number of freelancers and the rates range.

Bonsai also offers proposals, contracts, time tracking, invoicing and payments, and reporting. All of this is designed for freelancers.

As for the Rates Explorer, seeing the numbers calculated right in front of you may make you realize that you’re vastly underselling yourself. This tool can be especially beneficial to use now as we go into a new year and may be updating contracts.

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