As employers know, the hiring process is tightly regulated and subject to increasing oversight from federal watchdogs. One closely watched aspect of the pre-employment phase is employee eligibility. Businesses that conduct noncompliant procedures in regard to the Form I-9 may soon feel more pressure from the government, as a handful of Massachusetts employers did recently when they were fined for I-9 violations.
In total, 17 Massachusetts employers were fined a total of $349,619 by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following an investigation and audit of Form I-9 documents. The largest fine was designated to Northern Pelagic Group, which was ordered to pay $151,200 because of noncompliant practices in filling out and preserving I-9 forms for its employees.
The fines were a result of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), an employee document inspection program designed to root out detrimental employment practices and illegal worksites that employ people who are unauthorized to work in the United States.
"These settlements serve as a reminder to employers that HSI will continue to hold them accountable for hiring and maintaining a legal and compliant workforce," said Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of HSI Boston. "We encourage employers to take the employment verification process seriously, as we expand the number of audits we are conducting throughout Massachusetts each year."
During fiscal year 2012, ICE said it had conducted 35 inspections of employer I-9 documents in Massachusetts through the HSI program. The total represents an increase from 30 inspections in FY 2011, 20 in FY 2010 and 17 in FY 2009. The trend is a clear reflection of an increased governmental focus on employer hiring practices.
Businesses cannot risk added monetary penalties and damage to their company images with fines from ICE. To help companies avoid such setbacks, we offer comprehensive Form I-9 completion and employment verification services to guard against any noncompliant procedures.