Remote I-9s: Your Biggest Barrier to Remote Hiring

We can meet with one another over Zoom or Skype, chat over Slack, share information over cloud servers — for the vast majority of businesses, there’s really no reason why work needs to take place in a physical space. Not only are we capable of both remote hiring and working remotely, there’s also the fact that 77 percent of remote workers report that they are more productive at home than in the office. Remote workers also require less office space and equipment, saving businesses $11,000 annually for every remote worker they employ. Obviously, remote work is a desirable and, in many cases, necessary capability. Businesses are increasingly making the switch to a remote hiring and workforce.

But the main challenge with remote hiring soon surfaces– the remote I-9.

What makes remote I-9s hard to get right

During the normal I-9 process, you can have your new hire come on site with the necessary documents, fill out Section 1, and then you can fill out Section 2 on the same day.

Not so with remote I-9s. The principal challenge with filling out an I-9 remotely is that you need to designate a representative to inspect your new hire’s documentation and fill out and sign Section 2 for you. This representative can be anybody — a family member or friend of your new hire, for instance. The trouble is, the hiring company is still liable if Section 2 is filled out incorrectly by an agent outside of your organization.

The next challenge is in ensuring that the form is filled out in a timely manner. Federal law requires that Section 1 is filled out no sooner than the offer of acceptance and no later than their first day on the job, and that Section 2 is filled out by your designated representative within three business days of their date of hire. The reality of doing this remotely is that you’ll often find yourself sending multiple follow-up emails and phone calls to procrastinating representatives, delaying your new hire’s start date.

The risks of non-compliant remote I-9s

Some organizations, especially those hiring for time-sensitive positions or hiring in large quantities, may intentionally or accidentally delay filling out their remote I-9s. Others may simply fail to review their remote representative’s Section 2, missing mistakes or omissions.

As a result, you’ll delay your new hire’s start date. This means that your candidate may get sick of waiting to start work and look for employment elsewhere. And, if you’re a staffing firm, you’ll lose clients to other firms that can deliver workers faster. Other organizations outside of the staffing industry will have to increase their existing employees’ workload in the meantime, or, if you’re hiring for a critical position, you may have to delay project start dates.

Either through intention or accident, organizations that allow their new hires to start working without a complete I-9 will be in trouble for their next audit, forcing them to pay fines, hire legal teams and repair damage to their reputation. Furthermore, without a complete I-9, you can’t submit your E-Verify. Should your new hire turn out to be ineligible for employment, you could face criminal and civil charges. Considering that ICE conducted over 6,000 audits in the last year alone, it’s well worth businesses’ time to get their I-9s right the first time around.

How to streamline your remote I-9 process

When organizations are out of compliance with their remote I-9 process, it’s typically because they’re just not aware of the rules. That’s why it’s smart to designate one member of your organization to be the expert on remote I-9s. Have them learn the regulations associated with the remote I-9 process and be the internal resource that reviews your I-9s.

Additionally, it’s crucial that all I-9s, regardless of whether they’re remote or filled out in-person, be inspected for accuracy. Each I-9 found to contain an error could result in fines up to $2,236.

Naturally, this will be a time-consuming process for many organizations. And — even with this extra attention — it’s still possible for some erroneous forms to slip through the cracks. Fortunately, automated tools exist that can support you in this process.

What to look for in a tool to support your remote I-9 process

Since timeliness is such a concern with remote I-9s, you’ll want to find a tool that makes it easy for your employee and remote representative to fill out the forms. A well-designed solution should provide clear instructions and be easily accessible on mobile devices. It should also document everything so that you can provide an audit trail in the future.

When evaluating solutions to support your remote I-9 process, you’ll also want one that automatically updates according to changing laws and regulations. If these forms stayed the same for all time, this process would be much easier — unfortunately, the law is constantly evolving.

A valuable feature that can help seriously cut down on errors in your remote I-9 forms is the ability for you to incorporate rules on who can and cannot be your new hire’s designated remote I-9 agent. Not all organizations are comfortable with having a family member fill out Section 2. You may want to ask your new hires to contact a notary public, for example.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure the vendor of your tool understands the laws and regulations at play and have built that understanding into their software. There’s nothing worse than investing in a remote I-9 solution only to discover you’re still out of compliance down the road.

Remote I-9s may seem like a real barrier to enjoying the benefits of a remote workforce, but they don’t have to be. For most organizations turning to remote hiring for their first time, the amount of rules and regulations that need to be followed can seem overwhelming. With the right knowledge and the right tools, however, you may never need a physical office again.