U.S. employers of employees returning to the workplace after working remotely during the COVID-19 emergency should include verifying the physical presence and all other Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) requirements for complying with Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) are met by each employee returning to the workplace to minimize the risk of liability arising from failing to physically examine eligibility and identity documentation of employees hired to work remotely without physical examination of their original identity and eligibility documentation based on COVID-19 related limited Form I-9 flexibilities granted by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”); upcoming or missed deadlines for reverification of eligibility to work documentation for employees whose eligibility documentation contains an expiration date or both. Employers should use care to ensure that COVID-19 related staffing or other operational disruptions result in any failures to timely reverify eligibility to work for employees with expiring eligibility documents; to examine in the physical presence of the employee the identity and eligibility documents of employees hired to work remotely during the COVID-19 health care emergency within three days of the date the employee resumes working at an employer’s worksite on a regular basis or April 30, 2022.
U.S. law requires that each employer, agricultural recruiter and referrers for a fee who recruits, refers for a fee, or hires an individual for employment in the U.S. (“employer”) verify the employee’s identity and employment authorization by properly completing and retaining the Form I-9 for that employee. In addition to requiring each employee to complete Section 1 of the Form I-9, employers also must require each employee to present original identity and eligibility to work documentation for examination by the employer in the physical presence of the employee before the employer completes and signs Section 2 of the Form I-9. In some instances, employers that previously completed a Form I-9 for an employee subsequently may be required to complete Section 3 (“reverify”) when the employee relief upon documentation with an expiration date to prove eligibility to work by presenting unexpired original eligibility documentation to the employer for examination in the physical presence of the employee before the employer can complete the certifications required by that Section of the Form I-9.
Whether conducting an original employment verification or reverifying the employment eligibility of an employee when eligibility documents expire, the Form I-9 rules normally require the employer to physically examine the document presented by the employee to prove identity and eligibility to work to ensure the documents the employee presented are originals of a document on the Lists of Acceptable Documents or is an acceptable receipt and that the presented document reasonably appears genuine and to relate to the presenting employee. When the documents meet these conditions, during this physical examination, the employer must enter the necessary information to complete the applicable of Section 2 or 3 of the Form I-9 and appropriately date and sign the Form I-9.
Employers hiring employees based on documents that will require reverification usually track the impending expirations and notify the impacted employees at least 90 days before the date is required that they will be required to present a List A or List C document (or acceptable receipt) showing continued employment authorization on the date that their employment authorization or documentation whichever is sooner, expires.
COVID-19 DHS Form I-9 Flexibility Guidance Limited To Qualifying COVID-19 Remote Employees; Set To Expire April 30
On March 20 2020, DHS issued Form I-9 flexibilities guidance in response to precautions implemented by employers and employees related to physical proximity associated with the COVID-19 health care emergency. Under the currently applicable extension of the flexibility guidance published in December, 2021, that flexibility is set to expire on April 30, 2020.
The March 20, 2020 Form I-9 flexibility guidance granted employers temporary flexibility to delay examination of original identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence for employees working remotely as a COVID-19 precaution provided that the employer:
- Inspected the Section 2 documents remotely over video link, fax or email, etc.;
- Obtained, inspected, and retained copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2;
- Physically inspected the documents after normal operations resumed by requiring all employees on boarded using remote verification to report to the employer within three business days for in-person verification of Form I-9 identity and employment eligibility documentation;
- Maintained and provided as required written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee and other necessary documentation and other evidence to meet the criteria to qualify for the flexibility; and
- E-Verify participants who met the criteria and choose the remote inspection option continue to follow current guidance and create cases for their new hires within three business days from the date of hire.
For purposes of completing the Form I-9 documentation for employees covered by this flexibility, DHS directed employers taking advantage of this flexibility to delay physical inspection to enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 when originally completing the employee’s Form I-9 and when the employer physically inspected the documents when normal operations resumed, to add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. DHS specified that employers could rely upon this COVID-19 related flexibility until the earlier of 60 days from the date of its notice or within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency.
On March 31, 2021, DHS updated its March 20, 2020 Form I-9 flexibilities guidance effective April 1, 2021, to limit an employer’s ability to delay inspection in the physical presence of the employee to remote workers. The updated guidance states employers are required to inspect the Form I-9 identity and employment eligibility documentation in person for any employees who physically report to work at a company location on any regular, consistent, or predictable basis. For employees working remotely hired on or after April 1, 2021, however, the March 31, 2021 update specifies the flexibility to delay inspection in the physical presence of the employee applies to employees working work exclusively in a remote setting due to COVID-19-related precautions until the earlier of the date the remote worker undertakes non-remote employment on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis, or the date DHS terminates Form I-9 flexibility guidance. DHS also stated that the flexibilities do not prevent employers from commencing, in their discretion, the in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for employees hired on or after March 20, 2020, and presented such documents for remote inspection in reliance on the flexibilities first announced in March 2020.
Since DHS subsequently extended the availability of the Form I-9 flexibility policy through April 30, 2022 because of ongoing precautions related to COVID-19, employers that meet the conditions of the guidance currently may continue to delay in person inspection of the Form I-9 eligibility and identification documents for a remote worker hired after March 31, 2021 until the earlier of the date the employee resumes physically reporting to work at a company location on any regular, consistent or predictable basis; April 30, 2022 or the date normal operations resume. Meanwhile, employers must monitor the DHS and ICE’s Workforce Enforcement announcements about when the extensions end and normal operations resume.
Verify & Strengthen Compliance To Avoid Potentially Costly Fines & Other Liability
Maintaining appropriate Form I-9 verification and documentation compliance is critical to reduce exposure to expensive civil fines and in the case of certain wilful violations, even potential criminal liability.
DHS base penalties for I-9 violations adjust for inflation annually. Under the inflation adjustments implemented in November, 2021. the I-9 violation penalty per Form I-9 are now:
- For the first offense, $590-$4,722;
- For the second offense, $4,722-$11,803; and
- For the third or subsequent offense, $7,082-$23,607.
Appropriate documented compliance and remediation efforts by an employer are taken into account and can significantly mitigate if not eliminate civil and criminal liability assessments for Form I-9 and other immigration law violations Given the potential liabilities of noncompliance and the likely expiration of the COVID-19 flexibility guidance. all employers should include confirmation of continued I-9 compliance to their risk management activities.
As the COVID-19 health care emergency abates and businesses resume more normalized operations, employers that have resumed normal operations as well as employers with workers continuing to work remotely as part of their COVID-19 containment arrangements should ensure the employer has inspected the Form I-9 original identity and eligibility documentation of each employee physically reporting to work on any regular, consistent or predictable basis. In addition, as employees that previously worked remotely in response to the COVID-19 health care emergency resume onsite work, employers also should confirm that the Form I-9 documents not previously inspected in the presence of the employee in reliance on the I-9 flexibility guidance are required to present their original documentation for in person inspection by the employer within three days. Finally, because the COVID-19 health care emergency disrupted the normal operations and staffing of many employers, most employers also will want to audit the expiration dates, if any of any time limited eligibility documents presented by their employees to ensure that timely steps are taken to notify and secure updated eligibility documentation for employees whose employment relies upon those expiring documents.
Along with confirming that I-9 documentation for new hires and noncitizen employees relying upon expiring documentation during the COVID-19 health care emergency, employers also generally shoild reconfirm the adequacy of their overall I-9 policies, practices and documentation. Section 274A(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), codified in 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b), requires employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals hired in the United States after November 6, 1986. 8 C.F.R. Section 274a.2 designates the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9), as the vehicle for documenting this verification. For current employees, employers are required to maintain for inspection original Form(s) I-9 on paper or as an on-screen version generated by an electronic system that can produce legible and readable paper copies. For former employees, the retention of Form(s) I-9 is required for a period of at least three years from the first day of employment or one year from the date employment ends, whichever is longer.
Employers receiving a NOI or other request for inspection typically will want to contact experienced legal counsel immediately upon receipt to discuss any concerns and review the materials to identify any potential areas of concern and opportunities for improvement or liability mitigation prior to the inspection.Employers that receive a Notice of Inspection (NOI) from DHS can expect to be asked to produce the requested Form(s) I-9 for inspection along with a copy of the employer’s payroll, a list of active and terminated employees, articles of incorporation, business licenses and other supporting documentation. Businesses relying on contractors, subcontractors or leased employees should be prepared to access and provide any documentation regarding those workers available when requested, particularly in light of ongoing worker reclassification and joint employer initiatives by various federal agencies. The time period to produce these documents in the NOI can be short. Typically the NOI offers three or more days before the scheduled inspection. However, legal counsel frequently may work with DHS to arrange for a short extension of the deadline to allow for collection and organization of the requested materials. However, even with such extensions, advance preparation and organization, including collection or negotiation of access to contract labor, contractor, payroll and other relevant records, can be critical.
For additional information about the requirements or concerns discussed in this article, republication or other related matters, please contact the author, employment lawyer Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail, via telephone at (214) 452 -8297 or on LinkedIn.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, Form I-9 and other compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, internal controls, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.
Well-known for her extensive work with health and life sciences, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant, business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.
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