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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 choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software options for your company? Well, we have a list of suggestions and questions to help you determine what is best for you.

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It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Business Entrepreneur

Will startups ever fully return to offices?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Founders Forum survey seeks to understand how early-stage startups are changing their workplace strategy to adapt to our new COVID-19 controlled world.

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Startups in the tech industry are notorious for growing their businesses from their bedrooms, coffee shops, and mom’s basement. What more do you need when you have a phone, a computer, and a strong Internet connection? Besides of course, an idea and a lot of nerve.

Evidently, a lot more, hence the burgeoning coworking space industry that has surged in the United States in recent years. Founders have flocked to shared workspaces to find employees, mentors, and exchange ideas and resources with other startups. Creating a shared space to build community amongst like-minded individuals makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, the entire premise of the physical setup of this community has been challenged by the coronavirus. Founders have been driven back to their homes and basements, but have not lost their hunger for community.

That’s why the UK-based entrepreneur community Founders Forum is conducting a comprehensive study about the future of work for startups. “Founders are having to make critical decisions about their return to work strategy in isolation,” Founders Forum Executive Chairman and co-Founder Brent Hoberman told TechCrunch. The survey seeks to understand what founders are thinking about remote work strategies and, use of office space going forward.

As we begin to grapple with the increasingly real scenario where people will have to endure waves of quarantine as we wait for an immunity breakthrough, startups, SMBs, and tech giants alike are reconsidering their daily work structures to adapt to a new reality. Large companies like Facebook, Spotify, and Twitter have announced sweeping changes like indefinite work from home options for certain employees. This survey seeks to gather the yet-to-be-explored ideas from the early stage startup community.

In the entrepreneurial spirit of community and collaboration, the fundamental question at play here is, “How are other founders changing their workplace strategy?” The survey will also attempt to shed light on how employees’ various remote work environments may influence their point of view on strategies for moving forward.

Founders can take the survey here. TechCrunch will publish the results.

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