Engage News

8 common I-9 Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By Jay Starkman and Vanessa Matsis-McCready

The I-9 includes three critical sections, and if submitted incorrectly, these sections could cost an employer thousands of dollars in fines.

Reported in the Business Journals


We may be an increasingly “paperless” society, but there are still a number of critical forms the government requires of every employer in the U.S.

The I-9, used to verify the identity and employment authorization of all employees, is one of them.

The nine-page packet includes three critical sections that both the employee and employer must complete. If incomplete or submitted incorrectly, these three sections could cost an employer thousands of dollars in fines.

Consider the common I-9 errors below and learn how to avoid them and any related penalties:

1. Failing to examine documents in the employee’s presence

View only original versions of the required proof-of-identity and work authorization documents, not copies. If original documents are not available, or when hiring a remote employee, speak with an HR expert about how to handle the situation.

2. Requiring a Social Security number

Unless the employer is using E-Verify, it cannot require inclusion of this number on the I-9.

3. Failing to check a category — or checking multiple categories

In Section 1, “Employee Information and Attestation,” only one category may be checked. If the employee checks “Legal Permanent Resident” or “An Alien Authorized to Work Until,” then he/she must also provide a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) number or an I-94 admission number, respectively. This section must be completed on or before the employee’s first day of work. The employer then has three business days from the employee’s start date to complete the remainder of the I-9.

4. Rushing through Section 2

In this section, the “Employer or Authorized Representative Review and Verification," many employers forget to include the employee’s name and hire date. Also often missed are the representative’s title and company address.

5. Retaining I-9s unnecessarily

Employers need to retain I-9s for terminated employees for one year after termination date or three years after their hire date, whichever is later. Keeping extra I-9s, which may have errors, makes them available for audit.

6. Inconsistent copies of supporting documentation

Employers are not required to keep copies of the documents shown for I-9 verification. However, if you choose to keep copies, then you must keep a copy for every I-9. If an employer would like to change a policy, it should document the policy change and effective date.

7. Document abuse

Many employees overproduce documents from the Lists of Acceptable Documents – Lists A, B, and C. The I-9 form requires employees to produce one document from List A, or a combination of one document from List B and one document from List C. Employers should not accept or require additional supporting documentation and should only retain a copy of the document(s) used for Section Two. For example, if an employee brings in a U.S. passport (List A), a driver’s license (List B) and a Social Security card (List C) as proof, then the employee must select which document(s) to submit. The employer should only use and retain a copy of the selected document(s). Being over-inclusive may be considered document abuse and result in liability.

8. Telling the employee what documents to produce or failing to provide the entire I-9 packet

Employers cannot tell an employee which documents to produce. Instead, employers should provide the complete I-9 packet to the employee in advance. Although the Spanish version of the I-9 can only be completed in Puerto Rico, it can be used to educate employees about I-9 requirements in the rest of the U.S.

Perhaps the most important mistake to avoid is guessing. If you have a question about the I-9, do not risk an error and a fine; use the resources on the USCIS website, I-9 Central, at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central, or consult an HR professional.