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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

Business advice from Babe Ruth that all leaders should mind

(OPINION) Leadership comes from years of refining your practice, and great leadership comes dedication and focus, but Babe Ruth would add more to that…

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All good leaders pull from a variety of inspirational sources to create their formula for success, even from unlikely sources like an overweight baseball legend. Babe Ruth was a winner in his day without steroids and without the paparazzi and while he wasn’t a business leader, he hustled every day to be the best.

Today, we share with you a quote from Babe Ruth that all leaders should mind when operating business because this simple concept is one of the hardest to remember. “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games,” Babe Ruth said. Let that settle in. Are you resting your laurels on yesterday’s home runs?

Are you puffing your chest because last year’s sales were high or because your net worth was higher in 2008 than anyone else’s in your circle or because you won a prestigious award in 2007?

It’s very common to consider past accomplishments as part of your identity, there’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes relying on yesterday’s home runs stunts a leader’s intellectual growth – once you think you’re at the top of your game, sure you keep working, but are you really focused on today’s game?

The cliche of keep your eye on the ball would also be relevant here, because if you’re in the outfield dreaming about last week’s home run, you’re not in the game today with everyone else.

What steps are you taking to focus on today’s game? Maybe the image below should be your desktop or smartphone wallpaper as a reminder to focus?

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Business Entrepreneur

10 advantages and disadvantages of becoming a freelancer

For many reasons, you may be considering becoming a freelancer, and while there is great freedom in becoming your boss, you also take on a great deal of responsibility and risk.

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You already know the signs of when it’s time to quit your job and become an entrepreneur. But before you start your own freelance business, you should be aware of the pros and cons for your decision. After all, this type of decision has the potential to be life-changing, in either a positive or negative way. But we’ve done the work for you. Here are the top five positives and the top five negatives of becoming a freelancer in lieu of a full-time, 9-to-5 employee.

5 advantages of being a freelancer

1. Flexible Hours – The first advantage of becoming a freelancer is that you can work whenever you want. You get to choose your own hours. If you want to sleep in until noon, you can do that. If you want to take the weekend off so you can explore the city, by all means, go for it. As a freelancer, you can actually work during your most productive hours, and those hours don’t have to fall in during regular business hours.

2. Control over Jobs and Clients – When you work for someone else, you don’t get a choice of who you work with. You can become stuck with unprofessional or rude clients. But, when you’re a freelancer, you can choose with whom you work. If you don’t mesh well with a client’s personality or business or payment philosophies, you can pass on the opportunity and wish them the best. It’s as easy as that.

3. Work Wherever You Want – Whether you prefer consistency or shaking things up when it comes to your work environment, you can choose to work wherever you want, whether you choose to work in a local coffee shop or while you’re on vacation in Europe.  You are no longer stuck in an office or even in your home. Find a place in which you work best. You could work in a park, at the library, or in your living room while you’re wearing your pajamas.

4. You’re the Boss – You no longer have to answer to anyone but your clients and yourself. No one is hanging over you or micromanaging you. You are free to do as you please, when you please. Making all the tough decisions just became your responsibility; you have all the control.

5. You Keep All the Profits – No longer do you have to work for a flat rate, no matter how large the projects are taht you complete. Now, you get to allocate or keep all the profits from your large and small projects and clients. This gives you the freedom to then use that money to improve yourself and expand your business.

5 disadvantages of freelancing

1. Not Steady or Reliable Workloads – Unfortunately, being a freelancer means that your income and your workload are unstable and inconsistent. For the most part, you won’t be able to depend on any regular project, client, or profit, whereas you would know the exact pay you’ll receive at a traditional job.

2. Distinguishing Between Work and Personal Time – Being your own boss and working from your home also means that it can be difficult to distinguish between your work time and your personal life. This means that you can work long hours and never make time for your personal interests.

3. A lot of Legwork – You are now in charge of finding all your own clients and projects. When you worked a traditional job, your projects were probably handed to you. But now, you’re the sole person responsible, so that means a lot of legwork on your part.  And that means you have to wear many hats, including marketing, advertising, and sales.

4. Not Getting Paid – Being a freelancer also means that you run the risk of not getting paid. This is fairly common in the freelance world, and one more hat you’ll have to wear is that of a debt collector. There are ways to protect yourself from non-paying clients, but sometimes you won’t realize you’re at risk until it’s too late.

5. No Employer Benefits – Health benefits are expensive. Depending on your current health, switching to a freelance lifestyle might not be in your best interest. Also, starting your own freelance business means you no longer have paid sick days or vacation time to use. Every day you don’t work is a day you won’t get paid.

The takeaway

Freelancing is equal parts positive and negative. You just have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk that almost always accompanies it. Freelancing means professional freedom, but it also means instability and the risk of failure. And that may not be what you need in your professional life. But if you risk your stability for something more in tune with your professional goals than a traditional job, you have the opportunity to build your name and reputation and reach your professional goals.

This editorial was first published here in 2012.

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6 entrepreneurial tools for startup productivity

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Whether you’re a small business or startup, improving efficiency means more money and less stress. Here are six tools to help do just that!

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Truly great entrepreneurs are also well organized and know which tools will help them see their ideas to fruition.

That can be key for getting a startup business off the ground. Good ideas and a strong entrepreneurial spirit aren’t always enough on their own. Sometimes you need the right mix of technology and tools to keep the more mundane and tedious tasks from bogging down your efforts.

Here are six tools almost any entrepreneur can use to help keep productivity high when starting a new business:

Lawtrades: For legal help

For most entrepreneurs, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but making sure you have your legal ducks in a row is important for any startup. Lawtrades helps with that while trying to keep costs down — music to the ears of any startup business owner.

The service is a legal marketplace of sorts designed specifically for startups and entrepreneurs. It connects business owners with legal professionals that it claims don’t charge “bloated law firm hourly rates.”

Lawtrades offers a number of services, including business formation, employment and labor, contracts and agreements and intellectual property.

Do: For productive meetings

Anyone who has started a business knows that it doesn’t happen without a multitude of meetings. Do is a service that can help make your meetings productive so you can waste as little time as possible.

The app allows you to plan and share an agenda to make sure everyone is on the same page. Other features include the ability to track accountability by showing you which points and/or tasks have been covered.

1Password: For easy password management

Starting a new business likely means starting and managing lots of online accounts. The 1Password app from AgileBits helps you save time by remembering passwords and other information for you.

The app helps you generate strong and unique passwords for your many accounts, and secures them behind one safe password known only by you. The app doesn’t only work for passwords — it can also help remember other information such as credit card numbers, safe combinations or street addresses.

Kanbanize: For product development

If your startup involves a specific product or set of products, Kanbanize helps you develop them with your team without bogging down the process. The software allows you to post and share boards that include product information and progress, and you can choose which people see which information.

For example, if you want to update investors on the status of your product development, you can share certain boards with stakeholders and no one else.

Evernote: For organization

There are many applications available that aim to help team productivity, but Evernote is one of the best.

The software allows you to collaborate with your team all within one workplace, keeping projects and other work together. You can also give feedback on ideas and share notes while syncing the data across computers and phones.

There are many other features as well, including in-app chat functionality and integration with Google Drive.

TaskHusky: For web development

Almost any new business will want some sort of business, but a staff of web designers and developers isn’t always an option for startups. That’s where TaskHusky comes in.

TaskHusky is an on-demand service for small businesses that need help with one-off tasks with the Shopify, Bigcommerce or WordPress platforms. The company has a simple three-step process: You create a task and pre-pay, a TaskHusky team member is assigned the task and gets to work and the task is completed and is sent back for your approval.

The takeaway:

Smart entrepreneurs understand they can’t get everything done on their own when it comes to starting a new business. These six tools may not be everything you need to launch and maintain a startup, but they will go a long way to helping you keep productivity at a high level.

#productivity

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