The owners of the Black and Blue Restaurant of Rochester, New York started this New Year by handing $88,700 over to the feds. Their crime? Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accused the restaurant of failing to prepare I-9 forms for 19 employees, and having hundreds more that were incomplete. ICE originally wanted $264,605 in penalties… but after an appeal, the Department of Justice settled for less.
This is not the first time I-9 violations have nearly cost a restaurant owner their livelihood.
Fans of Sushi Zushi, a string of sushi restaurants in San Antonio, Texas, were surprised to find all eight locations shut down in the summer of 2012. Sushi service stopped when about a hundred “vital employees” were scared away by an I-9 audit.
The owner of the restaurant chain handed over the necessary documents, but admits there were several things missing. He says some didn’t have signatures, or the addresses were not accurate. On some, the Social Security or residency card numbers didn’t match the government’s data base.
These are prime examples of how going through the motions is not enough when you are dealing with immigration issues. Just having the forms does you no good if don’t have the correct information and if you can’t produce the original forms within three business days.
Typically, an employer will be given 10 days to fix simple typographical errors, but bigger violations, like improperly verifying someone’s identity or work authorization, could cost you some hefty fines.
EBI’s J-One electronic form I-9 system is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and your company. With one click the employee is able to fill out the necessary forms electronically. The system will flag any errors or omissions throughout the process to make sure everything is complete.
This completely paperless system will generate reports to help you maintain your compliance and have the documents at your fingertips as soon as you need them. This effort also shows that your company is operating in good faith.
If you find ICE agents at your door, there are things you should know before letting them inspect your I-9 documents.
- Take a deep breath. You have three days to respond. Agents are not allowed to show up without warning.
- Provide copies. Never hand over your original documents.
- Contact your attorney before allowing immigration officers to talk with any employees or company officers.
An audit does not have to cost you customers and money… but you have to be prepared.