The I-9 form is a two-page document which U.S. law requires every employer to complete for every employee hired after November 6, 1986. The I-9 form confirms that each worker is authorized to work in the U.S. The employer is required to do two things in connection with this verification process. First, the employer must review documents to assure that the employee is who he says he is, and that he is legally authorized to work in the U.S. Second, the employer must correctly complete the form.

The law outlines three different types of documents that may be presented by a worker to show the worker is allowed to work in the U.S.  Typically, U.S. citizen workers present the same documents, and reviewing documents for a U.S. citizen tends to be relatively simple. However, the type of documents non-U.S. citizens might present are extremely varied and require the employer to have a strong familiarity with immigration laws and the different types of immigration status the worker might have. Despite the fact that some documents are more often presented than others, the employer must not direct the worker to present specific documents. Doing so is an unlawful employment practice and could result in fines. Instead, the employer must only provide the worker with the lists of acceptable documents and allow the worker to select from among the documents on those lists in the I-9 form.

Every employer in the U.S. with at least one employee is required to complete and retain an I-9 form for each member of its workforce. I-9 forms for owners of the company must be completed if the owners are also employees.

It is a violation of federal law not to complete an I-9 form for a worker. The company, company officials, and the company representative charged with I-9 compliance all may be subject to fines and penalties for failing to complete an I-9 form. It also is a violation of federal law to complete an I-9 form incorrectly or inaccurately. Often, these “paperwork” or “technical” violations add up to thousands of dollars in fines for a company. These fines can be, and are, assessed against companies even if no unlawful workers are found and the only violations the companies committed were in filling out the I-9 forms incorrectly.

On its face the I-9 form appears relatively straightforward. Many employers complete I-9 forms as an afterthought following a hiring decision, but in today’s legal environment, all companies, large and small, must take the I-9 requirements seriously. Following a sound I-9 policy with all hires will minimize liability and protect the company and its ownership.