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Form I-9 & E-Verify For Dummies Blog Part 1: Common Mistakes of Completing Section 1 and 2 and How to Avoid Them

If you’ve ever stared at the Form I-9 and wondered (perhaps aloud) why a seemingly innocuous-looking form has so many rules, you’re not alone. At its core, the I-9 was designed to do one very simple thing – document your employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. The reality though is that the form has layers upon layers of rules, implemented over time by a variety of federal agencies that often have different objectives and standards.

The end result is a one-liner we often hear at HR conferences: the I-9 is America’s most complicated onboarding process, with a 90-page plus manual for completing a 2-page form.

Of course, many HR reps don’t have the time (or patience) to read the entire M-274 manual or the numerous other resources and FAQs that exist surrounding the Form I-9. And for that reason, we’ve published the very first Form I-9 & E-Verify For Dummies ebook, a short yet comprehensive guide on the intricacies of the Form I-9 & E-Verify process.

Over the next few months, we’re going to outline key aspects of the book in short, easy-to-digest updates. This 4-part blog series begins today with common mistakes in Sections 1 and 2 of the I-9.

Form I-9 & E-Verify For Dummies Blog Part 1: Common Mistakes of Completing Section 1 and 2 and How to Avoid Them

You’ve just hired a new employee who will be working in the US. Congratulations! This is no small feat (especially in today’s job market), but now you have a series of onboarding steps which must be completed – including the Form I-9.

At first glance, the process seems very straight-forward. The new hire employee completes Section 1, presents original documents for inspection, and you complete Section 2. But as mentioned above, the devil is in the details…

Section 1 Tips:

  • Section 1 must be completed no later than the employee’s first day of work for pay, without exception. Employers often mistakenly believe that they have three days to complete Section 1. There is, in fact, a so-called three-day rule, but it applies only to Section 2.
  • Consider asking your new hire to complete Section 1 of the form as early as possible, perhaps even making it a part of your “preboarding” process. Even better? Consider using an electronic I-9 system that can facilitate the I-9 preboarding process by allowing you to send the new hire a secure link for completing Section 1 before he or she shows up for work. Learn more about LawLogix I-9 Preboard.
  • Employees should provide their full legal name. If the employee has two last names or a hyphenated last name, ensure that both are entered. If the employee has a maiden name, it should be entered in the Other Last Names Used field.
  • Although the SSN is generally needed for payroll purposes, it is an optional field for the Form I-9 unless your organization is participating in E-Verify, in which case it is required.
  • The government requires your employees to enter “N/A” if they choose not to provide certain information. Make sure your new hires either enter a value or write “N/A” in the fields for Middle Initial, Other Last Names Used, Apartment Number, Employee’s Email Address, and Employee’s Telephone Number. The only optional field that does not require “N/A” is the Social Security Number.


Section 2 Tips:

  • Section 2 must be completed within three business days after the employee has started work for pay. Note that the first day of work for pay doesn’t count in that calculation. For example, if the employee starts work for pay on Monday, the third business day after the employee started work for pay is Thursday. Now for the twist: If you hire an employee for fewer than three days, you must complete Section 2 on the first day of employment (in other words, the same day as the Section 1 deadline).
  • The government defines a “business day” as any day of the week when your organization is open for business. That includes weekends and holidays, if you’re open. If your organization is open seven days a week, you should count Saturdays and Sundays in calculating the Section 2 deadline.
  • Employers must physically examine the actual documents — reviewing copies or images of such documents is not permissible. You must accept documents that appear to be reasonably genuine, relate to the person presenting them, and are from the lists of acceptable documents.
  • Employees need only to present one document from List A, or they must provide a combination of one document from List B and one document from List C. All documents should be unexpired and original, with limited exceptions.
  • You cannot ask for more documents than required, or specify which documents your employees should present. Both of these practices are strictly prohibited and can lead to a charge of discrimination.

And for those employers participating in E-Verify (the number of which is steadily growing), you’ll also need to keep these rules in mind:


E-Verify Tips:

  • You still need to complete a Form I-9 for all new hire employees — E-Verify is not a replacement for the Form I-9!
  • You must create a case in E-Verify within three business days of the employee’s first day of work for pay.
  • If your employee presents a List B document, you must ensure that it contains a photograph.
  • If your employee presents a U.S. passport, passport card, green card, or employment authorization document, you must retain a photocopy or scan, so that you can compare with the image displayed in the E-Verify system.
  • You must follow all of the government’s rules for dealing with a mismatch (known as Tentative Nonconfirmation or TNC).

Ready for more? Be on the lookout for the remainder of the blogs in the Form I-9 & E-Verify For Dummies 4 part blog series.  And, if you haven’t already done so be sure to download the Form I-9 & E-Verify For Dummies eBook.

About John Fay

John Fay is an immigration attorney and technologist with a deep applied knowledge of I-9 compliance and E-Verify rules and procedures. During his career, John has advised human resource managers and executives on a wide variety of corporate immigration compliance issues, including the implementation of electronic I-9 systems. In his current role, John serves as President at the LawLogix division of Hyland Software, Inc., where he oversees all aspects of the division’s operations and provides strategic leadership and direction in the development and support of Form I-9, E-Verify, and immigration case management software solutions.

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