BenefitsEmployee EngagementEnabling Technology

The Ins and Outs of the I-9: What to Know to Be Compliant

Cost, compliance, and liability issues abound. In this age of tightened security, employers need to address their I-9 mandates with automation.

by Dave Fowler

In the beginning, there was paper. Every HR department had lots of paper: payroll forms, employment applications, and benefits enrollment documents for multiple health and welfare plans. And of course there were lots of forms to stay compliant with federal and state laws. Over time, most of these business-critical HR functions were migrated seamlessly to the web. As a result, tedious transactions were expedited, data security and accuracy improved, and HR focused on more strategic initiatives.

But one of the loneliest laggards in HR’s previously 100-percent-paper-based world remains: the I-9. Potentially one of the most important documents in the onboarding and homeland security processes, the I-9 has lurked in file cabinets and dusty storage bins. Created to support the Immigration Reform and ControlAct of 1986 (IRCA), the I-9 regulation requires that employers verify employee identity and eligibility for employment.

Accordingly, organizations should have at least one I-9 form “on file” per employee, enabling them to measure compliance and monitor work authorization verifications. Completed I-9 forms are not filed with the U.S. government; instead, the employer keeps them on file. The form’s paper-based format is self-limiting, preventing both the auditing of this important data and proper “event management” to ensure everyone in the workforce is supposed to be there.


To illustrate the importance of the I-9, let’s examine its relationship to one of the hottest topics in today’s press: immigration, especially homeland security. If your I-9 documents are filed individually in personnel files, how can you efficiently and accurately audit your I-9 compliance processes? If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called you tomorrow about a certain employee, does your current I-9 system inspire confidence or instill fear?

Finding and correcting any I-9 errors in advance of an inspection means you’ll be mitigating risks on several fronts by reducing costs and increasing compliance.

A few more I-9 pointers—you need to have an I-9 per eligible employee, whether they’re onboarding for the first time, an H-1B worker, or a contractor-turned-employee. An eligible employee is anyone hired after November 6, 1986.

To minimize liability and measure compliance, the I-9 data needs to be compared with your payroll data. One of the best ways to do this is to partner with a service provider that can verify work authorization.

By now, you’re probably wondering why the I-9 paper problem hasn’t been addressed. With the abundance of technology-based solutions, shouldn’t someone be moving the I-9 online? The good news is that now there are electronic options that can automate the I-9 process, store the forms in a central repository in accordance with federal government regulations, and provide the appropriate compliance and usage reports. In April 2005, a new law took effect, allowing employers to sign and store I-9 forms electronically. This change helped to bring the I-9 form into the future and gives employers the “real time” visibility they need into this aspect of their business.

Do paperless I-9s make sense for every organization? Let’s consider typical hiring expenses: a health physical, drug screening tests, computing assets, training, etc. With an automated I-9 process in place, filling out the form can take place BEFORE the new hire is scheduled to start work. Consequently, there will be instances where that new hire is never scheduled to work because you discover that they’re not authorized to work. Therefore, the employee doesn’t satisfy your conditional offer of employment, and you won’t advance them through the process.

The new I-9 laws give employers the latitude to complete Forms I-9 on paper but choose to store the forms electronically. Employers may elect to both complete and retain the Form I-9 wholly electronically. Because electronic forms can be easily searched, reverification, quality assurance, and inspection improvements are recognized.

Whether you’re a large employer with multiple offices across the U.S. or a small business, the I-9 situation represents risk and liability. Taking aggressive steps to better define and automate this part of your HR processes can directly impact your organization’s bottom line.

Tags: Benefits, Enabling Technology, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Forum APAC, HRO Today Forum Europe, HRO Today Forum North America, HRO Today Global, HRO Today STA

Recent Articles