Expertise Beyond the Numbers

Independent I-9 Audits: Keeping Organizations One Step Ahead of Trouble

An IRS I-9 form is one of many mundane forms that businesses require employees to complete during the hiring process, yet if not completed accurately it can lead to some of an organization’s biggest headaches. Companies use I-9 forms to create W2’s and, importantly, to validate that each employee is legally authorized to work in the United States. Discrepancies on I-9 forms or the accompanying documentation can result in significant fines, legal fees, and major inconveniences.

There is evidence that I-9 audits by the Federal Government are becoming more common. In the 2017 fiscal year, largely as a result of increased scrutiny by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. employers were “ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines.”

It’s not only immigrant-dependent businesses that should be concerned. Any company with federal clients, including tech or aerospace firms, might be subject to audits in order to ensure that all employees are properly documented. And the range of potential immigration problems involves far more than just undocumented workers. Complications can arise with student visas, spousal visas, relatives of green card holders, and more. There’s no way to be too safe, or too organized.

Most mainstream discussion of I-9 audits focuses on ICE’s role, but the trend of government interest and oversight in this realm predates the current administration. Since September 11, 2001, the trend has been toward higher ID requirements, bigger fines, and increased scrutiny.

The government has also increasingly leaned on the largest companies to ensure their supply chains are following consistent I-9 compliance standards. Some of these companies perform their own supplier audits which can catch smaller companies unprepared. While large companies benefit from robust HR infrastructure to ensure proper I-9 management and record-keeping, smaller organizations often rely on manual processes. Since these are often less reliable, the propensity for errors is higher.

The best way to protect against a federal I-9 audit is to stay a step ahead. Federal audits can come suddenly, sometimes in as little as three days after the Notice of Inspection that announces it. With that kind of window, you can’t expect to have the chance to get your documents together before the inspection begins. That’s why many organizations hire I-9 experts to proactively audit their records so that any discrepancies can be identified and resolved well before it’s too late.

Independent I-9 audits also strengthen the working relationships you have with your partners and suppliers. Supply chains have become so diffused that honest contractor relationships have become essential. You don’t want to be caught unaware when your supplier or distributor gets federally audited, and likewise, you want to avoid putting them in the same situation.

Through proactive audits, SC&H Group has helped clients large and small to resolve simple oversights and data entry mistakes, and also identified potentially more serious documentation gaps that could have created serious audit issues if left unresolved. Many companies take advantage of these audits to improve their on-boarding documentation processes. Most importantly, HR professionals and COO’s appreciate the peace of mind that the company isn’t unknowingly exposed to the risk of I-9 discrepancies that could damage the organization’s reputation, working relationships, or bottom line. That’s an increasingly rare find, and worth going out of your way to secure.

To learn more about how to pursue an independent I-9 audit, contact us to speak directly with a team member from SC&H Group’s Contract Compliance Audit Services practice.