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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 freelancers can keep the peace with difficult clients

(ENTREPRENEUR) Freelancers are in a tight spot – keeping customers happy pays the bills, even when they’re impossibly difficult. Let’s discuss how to overcome this tremendous challenge.

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Freelancers have a myriad of benefits, but one distinct drawback is that there isn’t always a team to back you up if you find yourself working with a particularly nasty client. It’s especially important to keep clients — no matter how insufferable they may be — in good moods, so here are a few tips on keeping the peace with your most annoying customers.

It’s worth noting that you can often mitigate a large amount of potential misunderstandings — and thus, nastiness — by being clear with your intentions, terms, and rules up front and over-communicating at all times. A common issue for beginning freelancers is a tendency to settle on less-than-optimal terms for fear of losing a potential customer. A piece of advice – if they’re not willing to pay you what you’re worth now, they never will be.

It also helps to keep in mind that most obstinate clients are simply control-freaks who have found themselves outside of their comfort zones. Knowing that you aren’t dealing with inherently bad people can be the difference between snapping and having more patience.

Once you’ve established that your client is causing you substantial enough discomfort that their behavior is no longer acceptable, your first step should be to communicate to them the specifics of your problem. If possible, do this in writing – promises made via email tend to reinforce accountability better than phone calls.

Freelancers should also avoid using any additional stipulations or rewards for getting clients to cooperate. As long as they’re the one failing to hold up their end of the bargain, they should be the one to pick up the slack — don’t do their work for them (or, if you do, make sure you charge them for it).

Again, the majority of client-freelancer issues can be boiled down to miscommunication and shaky terms, so address all issues as quickly as possible to avoid similar problems in the future. And as previously stated, over-communicate at all times.

Of course, keeping the peace is only viable up to a certain point of abuse.

If your client doesn’t pay you by the agreed-upon due date, continuously disrespects you and/or your team, or keeps changing the terms of your agreement, you reserve the right to set the client straight, threaten to take them to small-claims court, or — if you haven’t initiated the work for your end of the deal — terminate the contract.

Remember, freelancers don’t owe inconsiderate customers the time of day, and for every non-paying customer with whom you waste your time, you’re missing out on a paid, legitimate opportunity.

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Business Entrepreneur

4 things to remember when things look bad for you as an entrepreneur

(EDITORIAL) We obsess about successful entrepreneurs but don’t always see the struggles it took to get to that point. If you’re struggling as an entrepreneur, let this editorial encourage you and give you an honest perspective.

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The American fairy tale of entrepreneurialism

We love a good success story just like the next guy. We love tales of triumph, of someone winning against all odds, and today, the American fairy tale of entrepreneurialism is one that has captured the minds of screenwriters, musicians, and Instagrammers alike. We worship the Zuckerbergs of the world who went from no one to bajillionaire in a short period of time as their lines of code changed how the entire world communicates.

But in that idol worship, we focus on that moment of success and don’t see the tales of failures hovering just below the surface. Every entrepreneur can tell you about the overwhelming nature of those struggles and failed moments, and they can all tell you about the crushing pressure that exists before the dawn of success.

So what should every hopeful, budding, or veteran entrepreneur keep in mind? We asked Victorio Pellicano, Founder and CEO of Verenia for his thoughts on the topic, on overcoming the difficulties of entrepreneurship. He earned his BS in Computer Science from the University of St. Francis, which he followed up with a law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He worked as a software engineer and soon founded Verenia which is a popular CPQ company (“Configure, Price, Quote” is software that accurately prices goods as endless variables change constantly).

Although there were already huge CPQ companies in existence (Salesforce, SAP), Pellicano has been able make his company meaningfully competitive and skyrocket revenue, all without outside funding. Talk about a high pressure scenario.

Below are Pellicano’s words of guidance for entrepreneurs when things look bad:

Starting a business from the ground up is tough

A lot of things need to go right to be successful. Too bad human existence has a funny way of doing exactly the opposite of smooth. Things change, people get into fights, or maybe the overall vision of the business isn’t what it once was. When you’re in business for yourself, the term “bootstraps” can mean a lot of things.

It isn’t easy, but if you do find that mythical “magic quadrant,” the payoff is incredible. You’ve built something you believed in, and you put in the work to achieve awesomeness. There are few feelings as gratifying as being the boss and taking a long lunch whenever you damn well please.

But, it ain’t all roses. Stuff will suck a lot of times. It will be hard. That’s just inherent to the culture of being self-made. I mean hey, busting your ass, coming up from nothing is basically, like – 80% of rap music, right?

As new entrepreneurs set off into the business world, there are some things they should know, what to expect and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

Check out these four things to keep in mind when it feels like the sky is falling.

1. Build a support system stronger than the Great Wall

When in business, stuff goes sideways. Anyone who’s ever held a job knows stuff changes and can go bad quickly – that’s just inherent to the DNA of work. But, when you’re in charge, and it’s your business, you’ll be pulled in a lot of directions. Many times, those directions are uncomfortable whether it be about the staff, progress, earnings, whatever. Because of this, you gotta assemble the All-Star team behind you, the folks who’ll always keep your head in the game and won’t let you get too big for your britches.

As an entrepreneur, you’re inherently optimistic. You had the guts to go it alone and do your own thing. That optimism is what makes you, you. Because of this bold attitude of work-related sunshine, you’ll probably not likely pay attention to that bad stuff, until it’s like, crazy bad.

By keeping a group of advisors, friends, and family close who you can talk to, you’ll have voices who offer advice from a place that isn’t about anything but helping you succeed. Success is a long process, rarely do businesses go from red to black overnight. You need some reliable people to keep you sane when all is quiet.

2. Don’t lose sight

When you had the idea to start your business, it was about more than just making money. You had goals, you had a vision, and you wanted to make an impact on the world. After a while, those emotional price points evolve. When you suffer a setback, or something goes way better than planned, it’s important to stick to your guns.

Keep a list visible near your workspace. You got into this game because you wanted to do better for your family, or maybe your last boss was a jerk and this is your way of paying the universe back. Either way, a little motivation never hurt anyone. You wanted to be the boss of yourself, don’t lose sight of that through the rough patches.

Set small goals to nail, and then work your way toward the bigger rocks. Motivation is hard, just ask anyone who wants to hit the gym, but still has a gut. Business is no different. You need to focus on the stretch goals and fight your way through the murk of self-doubt.

3. Rome wasn’t built in a day

You know why this old cliche sticks around? Because it’s true. Nothing worth doing happens overnight. If being self-made was easy, everyone would be doing it, too. (Just ask Biggie Smalls.)

Read any bio of successful folks who built an empire, or just a solid place to grab a burger in the neighborhood – success took time. For many of these folks, that time was spent worried the dream would go under from lack of early adopters.

But they persisted. They invested their money back into the business, they promoted, they made smart choices instead of the easy ones. Building brand equity will take smart moves and a lot of patience. Can’t be selling that charbroiled cheeseburger when no one’s coming in the door, right?

4. Accept your plan isn’t perfect

Just because you dream it down to the final note on paper, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work out that way.

If you’re a business-type CEO, you’ve spent a lot of time planning, writing business plans and Go-To-Market plans – that’s business 101.

If you’re a technical CEO, you’ve spent a lot of time coding, researching, and watching trends.

Both CEOs have done the homework, they’ve planned, prepared, and are committed to taking on the world, helmet strapped on and mouth guard in place.

But then the world doesn’t give a shit. Doesn’t even kind of care. No leads come in, there is no money to spend to bring in new customers, and no foreseeable change.

All the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the harsh realities of the free market. As you roll out and talk to people about your business, invite criticism and learn from what other people tell you. It doesn’t mean you have to change course every time someone’s opinion is different than yours, but their thoughts and critiques could offer a nugget of truth you may have not considered.

Final word of encouragement

I’m from Chicago, and if there’s one thing we love more than The Blues Brothers, it’s His Airness, Michael Jordan. I rely on one of his quotes to get me through the bad times:

“I’ve missed 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

If that ain’t some #realtalk, I don’t know what is. See you out on the court, folks.

#realtalk

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Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs’ edge – working quality, not quantity hours

(ENTREPRENEURS) A huge advantage of the entrepreneur life is full control over your day – and using your hours wisely (and creatively) boosts productivity, even if it means sleeping in and staying up late. Think quality, not quantity.

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So often, we hear the phrase “quality, not quantity,” which can be appropriately used to describe ideas we give to our boss or the amount of effort we put into volunteering. The long and short of it is – don’t half-ass something because you think it’s fulfilling the need of “quantity.”

Quality is always so much more important when it comes to output in your job. Like, okay, great, you worked 11 gillion hours this month, but what did you actually accomplish? Did you finish endless busy work and take pictures for social media of how busy you are? Or did you grow your bottom line?

Over the years, we’ve heard a lot about flex hours and more working from home options, but a hot new idea is (you guessed it) quality hours, not quantity hours. Sometimes fitting into that 9-to-5 framework is satisfying the quantity aspect, but are we really being as productive as we should?

Many people argue that we should be working less in order to produce more. Wait, don’t leave, let me explain.

Does it really seem like the best idea to be working when your energy level is in the negatives? Probably not. This opens the door for more mistakes, less engaged work, and less output. If you’re a night owl and your brain fires on all cylinders when the sun has gone down, is it really worth focusing your work energy during the hours that your brain isn’t fully on?

If we work only when we know we’re going to be productive, we can really make the most of our time. Now, don’t get that confused with “sit around and wait for lightning to strike and THEN work,” it means schedule your tasks based on when your mind is typically the most productive.

When are you most productive? In the morning after you’ve had a quick job and some coffee? Or post mid-afternoon when you’re full-on awake? Jonas Downey pondered this question, and said, “I’m usually at my creative peak in the mid-morning and lose steam after lunch, so I shuffle my work accordingly. I do exploratory freeform stuff in the morning, and I save routine tasks (like implementing something I already know how to do) for the afternoon. I also have a rather short attention span, so I take tiny breaks a lot.”

He notes that working just to hit a certain number of hours is counterproductive, because in that time, there are likely to be hours worked when you are not at your best. Click To Tweet

Be honest – do you do your best work when your head is in the clouds, or when you show up to a task, raring to go?

Glorification of the 80 hour work week is dead in most circle, so consider scheduling yourself for times and days that your brain will cooperate with you instead of work against you and force you into menial work that feels like you’re accomplishing tasks!

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