One of the best ways to make sure that your business is operating “on the up-and-up” is to stay up to date (and within the law) on all of your tax documents, and that includes I-9 forms. Every business owner needs to be familiar with I-9s, even if they’re using a third party for their company’s HR and payroll needs! Check out the videos on this page for more information about completing these forms, or read on for a brief overview:
“What, exactly, is an I-9 form?”
An I-9 is a tax document that is designed to verify the identity and employment authorization of folks hired by businesses in the United States. The form is unique in the sense that it’s not supposed to just be completed by an individual; half of it must be filled out by the employee, and half of it must be filled out by their employer. When workers complete the first half ofan I-9, they are swearing that they really are who they say they are and that they’re legally employable in this country. They must also provide documentation to prove this assertion. When a business owner fills out the second half of the I-9, they are swearing that they took due diligence to verify that the employee in question “checks out” (that is, their documentation all seems legitimate) and can legally work for them.
“When will I need to use an I-9 form?”
An I-9 must be completed (by both the employee and the employer) within three business days of a new hire’s first day of work. If an employee begins work on Monday, for example, both the employee and employer have until Thursday to complete, date, and sign the form. A common strategy employed by many businesses is to simply have their new hire fill out their half of the I-9 on their first day of work; this helps both parties to stay on top of things!
“I’ve filled out I-9 forms before. How are the new ones different?”
The good news is that the new forms are essentially the same as the old ones; most of the differences are minor and designed to clear up confusion and help prevent errors. Because the new I-9 form is meant to be completed (sans the current date and any signatures) on a computer, detailed explanations are available for each question or blank space. The form will also auto-fill information in the appropriate boxes whenever possible.
New features on the “employee” half of the form include:
- The box labeled “Other Names Used” has been changed to “Other Last Names Used.” This is to clarify that the form isn’t asking about nicknames or anything of that nature—it only wants to know if the employee has ever been known by a different surname than the current one. This is frequently the case with folks who legally change their name following a marriage or a divorce.
- The “Date of Birth” section now includes a drop-down calendar that allows employees to enter their DOB in a more user-friendly way. The employee doesn’t have to use the drop-down, but it may prevent them from entering the date in the incorrect format.
- The section that follows the heading “I attest, under penalty of perjury, that I am (check one)” will auto-fill different fields depending upon the employee’s answer to the question about their citizenship/residency. Thus, the employee can clearly see which fields can be answered with “N/A” and which ones require further attention.
- The employee now must indicate on the form whether or not they required the services of a preparer or translator to fill out the document; the form essentially anticipates an answer of “Yes” instead of “No.” Answering “Yes” will prompt the I-9 to ask for more information, and “No” will simply auto-fill “N/A” where appropriate.
- Employees may now list P.O. Boxes as their address instead of using a physical street address.
New features on the “employer” half of the form include:
- In the documentation section, the I-9 will fill the column for List A with “N/A” if a form of identification from List B is selected. Likewise, List B will be filled with “N/A” if an option for List A is selected. This clearly conveys that it’s an either-or arrangement—you can’t select one from List A and one from List B.
- In that same section, social security cards are now automatically given an expiration date of “N/A.”
- An “Additional Information” box has been added to better contain any notes that you would have previously written in the margins of the form.
“What happens if I (or one of my employees) makes a mistake on an I-9 form?”
If an I-9 is found to contain an error, you’ll probably have to pay a fine—and because the federal government takes I-9 forms very seriously, the fines are pretty steep. Every single error can cost you between $200 and $2,000! The new forms are designed to be easier to fill out correctly and notify the user of any issues (e.g., spaces left blank when they at least need a “N/A,” dates written incorrectly, improper documentation used), but it’s still possible to make mistakes or typos. It’s also possible to not fill the form out within the allotted time frame. So be careful, everyone!
“Where can I get the latest I-9 forms?”
Current I-9 forms can be downloaded from the official United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Going directly to the USCIS for your I-9 needs helps to ensure that you’re filling out the newest, most current version of the document.
Like most tax forms, I-9s can seem a bit intimidating at first blush, which means that some folks may be a bit nervous about filling them out. In truth, though, they’re not too terribly complicated; as long as the information is filled in correctly and all identifying documents are in order, there shouldn’t be any issues. For more information about I-9s and other tax forms for your business, please feel free to submit your inquiries to Staff One directly. Our PEO is here to help your business thrive—and stay on the IRS’s good side!