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If the United States Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) showed up on your company's doorstep today, would you be worried? Would a complete audit of your employment files easily weather an ICE raid? If you don't immediately answer "yes" with 100 percent confidence, then you need to get ready for a potential ICE storm immediately.

ICE recently launched a new "silent raid" against the hiring of illegal workers by raiding 1,000 businesses nationwide. These companies, whose names have remained confidential, will be required to submit a full audit of their I-9 paperwork, including weekly work schedules, managers' names and names of temporary staffing agencies. Companies found guilty of illegal hiring practices are heavily fined, and illegal workers are fired. Foodservice and high-tech manufacturing are among the targeted industries.

You're probably thinking that since you've never hired illegal workers your restaurant should be fine, right? Don't be so sure — companies that don't hire illegal workers can still face large fines for incorrect or missing paperwork for legal workers.

Let's consider this familiar scenario. As the general manager of a busy restaurant, you just hired a new employee. It's the middle of the lunch rush, and you now have to train your new hire and complete the required I-9 paperwork and onboarding documents — all while juggling customer requests and overseeing food preparations. With high turnover in the industry, you are frequently hiring new employees so this situation happens to you on a regular basis.

Considering all the potential distractions that can happen to you during this scenario — and any other hiring situation — how confident are you that your I-9 paperwork for every employee is correct and on file? If you're not, then you run the risk of receiving a hefty fine if audited. Fines can range from $110 to $1,110 per form, depending on the violation. Even a small typo, such as filling in the wrong start date for an employee, will result in a fine.

Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do starting today to stay compliant and ensure you will survive ICE audit with flying colors.

  1. Know your responsibilities. I-9 E-Verification is required on all Federal contract work. An additional 17 states require it on some or all types of employment. As E-Verify policies change, make sure you remain compliant. Some HR solutions are connected to the government's E-Verify site and can help automate the process while ensuring you're in compliance.
  2. Train your team. Make sure that everyone on your team who hires employees, including managers and your HR team, are properly trained. It is imperative that they understand the importance and legal ramifications for not meeting I-9 requirements or incorrectly completing paperwork.
  3. Keep great records. Producing I-9 forms for inspection is required within three days of being requested. Keeping I-9 paperwork in an employee's personal file is a common practice, but it's recommended that all I-9 forms are kept together in a single location together to make the audit process easier to access at a moment's notice. Also, be sure to keep all files in a secure location as they contain personal information. Some automated HR solutions provide an online repository where these documents can be maintained electronically.

Being prepared for an ICE raid before it happens, rather than being surprised and unprepared, is crucial. Maintaining paper files can be time-consuming and susceptible to getting lost or misplaced. Using an online I-9 Verification software can save a lot of time and ensure complete compliance. When considering which software is best, make sure it offers: electronic I-9 form completion and storage, deadline tracking, automatic completion alerts and reminders, and full support in case an ICE audit occurs.

To be safe during an ICE raid, prep for it on a regular basis. Understanding the legal and financial risks of incompliance and how to mitigate these risks is imperative. Likewise, find the tools and technology that can help you the best. Like G.I. Joe says "Knowing is the half the battle."

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Nate DaPore
Nate DaPore, PeopleMatter President and Chief Executive Officer As the spirited leader of PeopleMatter, Nate is passionate about providing team members, including his own, with a rewarding workplace experience that values creativity and innovation.
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