Since 2004, employers have been authorized to use computerized versions of the federal Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Now U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is actively encouraging the practice.
Should you ditch paper I-9s and switch to electronic completion, filing and storage of workers’ employment eligibility information? For most employers, the answer is yes.
Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons.
Advantages of electronic I-9s
There are many reasons electronic I-9s are better than paper-based systems:
- Most of the major vendors (do a Google search for “electronic I-9 service vendor”) use web-based systems. That means you don’t have to install software—you’re good to go with an Internet connection and a web browser.
- Most systems force employees to enter complete information. The form won’t register unless it’s properly filled out.
- The better electronic I-9 systems include "help" features that make it easier for HR and employees to answer questions on the Form I-9. Many vendors offer systems that guide workers and HR through the whole process.
- If you have many work sites, electronic systems make it easier to monitor I-9 compliance across the organization.
- Reverification is automated. That means you’re less likely to incur liability because you inadvertently failed to update an employee’s I-9. Many systems send e-mail reminders.
- Employers can integrate the system with the federal government’s E-Verify electronic employment verification system. That minimizes the chance you’ll end up hiring unauthorized workers.
- Using an electronic I-9 system reduces the risk of employee identity theft—a problem authorities say is on the rise.
- Using an electronic I-9 system can make it easier to respond to ICE audits. In addition to the audit trails required by regulation, some of the systems archive communications relating to the I-9.
- An electronic I-9 system automates purging of I-9s for workers you no longer employ and for whom you no longer must retain I-9s.
- Some systems include instructions in multiple languages for employees who have difficulty understanding English.
- You might be able to achieve cost savings by electronically storing I-9s rather than using conventional paper filing and or microfilm storage systems.
- Electronically retained I-9s are more easily searchable—a time saver for HR. The better systems produce a variety of reports that make it easier to monitor I-9 compliance.
Downsides to using electronic I-9s
There are some potential problems with using electronic I-9 systems:
- There’s no such thing as a 100%-secure electronic system. (Of course, that’s true of paper, too.)
- Electronic systems can’t totally stop employees from using bogus employment eligibility documents. Someone who is determined to submit fraudulent, doctored or stolen identity documents can still do so. Employers who use electronic I-9 systems still must carefully scrutinize the documents employees present.
- Paper I-9s are free. Electronic systems typically charge a flat monthly fee or a nominal fee per employee.
- If your Internet connection crashes, you won’t be able to complete forms online or access your files.
- If your electronic I-9 vendor goes out of business, you could be in a bind. Your best bet: Find a vendor that lets you back up I-9 files on your own computer system.
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