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How to comply with I-9 and employee verification

UYoTheWhen you’re a business owner, a sea of governmental regulation awaits. But I-9 compliance, which focuses on employment eligibility verification, keeps rising to the top of the stack.

And with more employers, especially those in the restaurant industry, facing increased scrutiny regarding their hiring practices, employment verification compliance is critical.

Let’s discuss how to comply with this particular mandate and why it’s so important to the livelihood of your restaurant.

Intro to I-9

Form I-9 is used for “verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States.” First enacted in 1986, the program is monitored and enforced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS.

Who needs to complete the I-9?

You must complete a form for each and every individual you employ in the US. Employers are responsible for ensuring a completed form is on file; however, the form requires input from both employers and employees.

Non-compliance can lead to severe fines and penalties, beginning at several hundred dollars and incrementally increasing to the tens of thousands per violation.

When does the form need to be completed?

There is a strict timeline to follow when completing an I-9 form.

Employees must complete Section I of the form no later than the first day of employment.

Next, employers should complete Section II, which must occur within three business days of the employee’s first day of employment.

Acceptable documentation

As part of Section II, the employer must obtain legible copies of specific employee documents. There are three lists of documents – A, B, and C. The employer must do the following:

  • Physically examine one document from List A; or
  • Examine one document from List B and one document from List C; and
  • Record document title, issuing authority, document number, and expiration date for each document reviewed.

From List A, the most commonly used documentation is a U.S. passport or U.S. passport card. For List B, employees will most often present a driver’s license. And for List C, a U.S. social security card is commonly used.

Filing Form I-9

Once you complete the form and can account for all documentation, is completed, you must retain all related I-9 documents for a minimum of three years from date of hire or for one year after termination, whichever is later.

If, or when, an I-9 audit occurs, the paperwork will need to be presented for inspection. Potential agencies conducting the inspection include the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, or Department of Justice.

How to make corrections to the form?

If you must make corrections to the form, simply draw a line through the incorrect information and enter the updated information. Then, sign and date.


E-Verify is another method that has been introduced as a modern tool for employment verification.

Developed from a partnership between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, you can use this free, web-based service in conjunction with Form I-9.

While the use of E-Verify remains voluntary in most states throughout the country, some states, like Alabama and Arizona, have passed legislation requiring the use of the E-Verify system.

Besides being free and easy to use, E-Verify offers employers the ability to confirm the identity of employees more quickly. And since it validates the information against several government databases, it’s likely a more accurate way to authenticate identities and employment eligibility.

Why it matters

Employment eligibility has been a significant area of focus for the current White House administration, and as a result, audits have been widespread.

  • The government performed more than 8,900 audits since January 2009;
  • 8,590 companies and individuals have been debarred; and
  • Fines and penalties totaling more than $100 million have been levied against offenders.

To avoid these significant sanctions and the fallout of a failed I-9 audit, restaurants owners and operators should establish solid I-9 procedures as soon as possible.


Carrie Luxem is the founder and President of Restaurant HR Group, a full-service HR group based in Chicago, IL. Carrie will be sharing her wisdom from over 15 years in restaurant human resources through guest-posts on the Homebase blog.

Discover how Homebase can help even more by visiting our HR and Compliance page.

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