By Sue Mulford, KAF Financial

The rise in I-9 audits under the Obama Administration has been dramatic. Read what guest blogger, Sue Milford of KAF Financial has to say on what to watch out for when completing your Employment Eligibility Verification forms.

The U.S. government recently released statistics that indicate $7.1 million in fines were levied during the first half of 2011. Although immigration raids have been common before, the focus of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today is on auditing and investigating employers to determine if they are satisfying the I-9 form requirements and if they are knowingly or unwittingly employing illegal workers.

ICE isn’t only going after companies they suspect may be employing illegal or immigrant workers or the big companies; they are going after small and middle market businesses too…and there’s no leniency.

Penalties can run amount to as much as $1,100 per violation; however employers with large workforces and multiple violations can be hit with millions of dollars in fines. Criminal prosecution can also face employers if they purposely overlook I-9 responsibilities.

While the government has been diligent in communicating the documents needed for I-9 compliance, little has been said about the importance of accurately completing the I-9 form. Increasingly, employers are discovering that even small violations are grounds for penalty. The following are a number of I-9 issues that can place a company in violation:

  • Using red ink (only black or blue ink is acceptable);
  • Using a highlighter to call attention to information;
  • Miscellaneous marks or notes in margins or white space (even the slightest mark at the top of the form can trigger a penalty);
  • Using White Out or corrective tape (if a correction is necessary, cross out the item that needs correcting, write in the new information and initial and date when the correction was made).

Other reasons for an I-9 penalty are:

  • Providing too much documentation;
  • Failing to list the I-9 documentation in the correct column;
  • Showing an inaccurate issuing authority;
  • Reviewing photocopies or faxed copies of documentation;
  • Accepting expired U.S. passports.

It’s critical that businesses make every effort to assure they are in compliance with the I-9 form requirements. Don’t let seemingly small errors and omissions add up to large fines and/or criminal charges against your company.

Sue Mulford, PHR, Human Resources Manager at KAF Financial, is an active member of the HR committee for the Mass. Society of CPAs, the Northeast Human Resources Association, the Society for Human Resource Management and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. For more information, call 781-356-2000 or visit