The Risks of Form I-9 for Restaurants

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any employer in the U.S. that they must ensure proper completion of federal Form I-9 for each person they hire. Particularly for operators in the restaurant industry, who face high-volume hiring as a result of toxic turnover, it’s critically important to be diligent regarding employment eligibility to avoid penalties.

There’s a lot more to the Form I-9 than it would appear.

What might come as a surprise, however, is that even business operators who have nothing but lawful intentions when it comes to the eligibility of their workforce are at risk of making seemingly benign errors regarding the Form I-9, which can have costly consequences. Given the high stakes, restaurant operators today must understand the intricacies of Form I-9 and the penalties associated with paperwork that is incomplete or contains errors. In today’s tech-driven world, they should also know which platforms are available to them that take physical paperwork out of the equation and help them stay compliant and avoid hefty fees.

Form I-9: What is it?

Form I-9, or officially, the Employment Eligibility Verification, is a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services form. Mandated by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, it is used to verify the employment eligibility of all employees in the United States. 

Since its inception, Form I-9 has induced headaches for employers of businesses across all industries. In recent years, employment eligibility verification has become even more rigorous, placing added pressure on businesses to ensure they’re not intentionally (or unintentionally) breaking the law. Nationwide, ICE worksite enforcement jumped more than threefold in the first nine months of 2018 alone.

Incompletion and Errors Put Restaurants at Risk

Form I-9 is a four-page form, but in total, there are more than 900 pages for businesses to review regarding its proper completion. With the added task of translating the content’s jargon, Form I-9 is a heavy lift for any business owner – and particularly a restaurant manager – who doesn’t have a designated and diligent HR staff behind them to lend a hand.

Even employers that intend to be fully compliant are at risk of incorrectly completing their Form I-9 paperwork and are therefore subject to detrimental fees.

As a result of its numerous intricacies, many businesses today are guilty of improperly filling out their Form I-9. In fact, some estimates suggest that 60-80 percent of paper Form I-9s are missing, incomplete or contain some type of error. Some common Form I-9 mistakes include not ensuring that all items are completed such as date of hire, not completing the form within the three days required, requesting to see a specific document, like a “green card”, or not reviewing the actual documents presented. 

These are the types of errors that are made without malice, but it doesn’t matter. Penalties for even unintentional Form I-9 paperwork violations can range from $230 to $2,292 for seemingly simple mistakes – per individual. If an employer is a repeat offender or makes the same error with more than one employee, these fees can climb even higher. In the restaurant industry, which faces notoriously slim profit margins, these fines should be avoided at all costs. 

The Role of Technology

Understandably, restaurant operators want to be compliant, but completing the Form I-9 can be a tedious and difficult task when they have a bustling business, hundreds of employees – and not to mention their customers – to cater to. Particularly for franchisees that are strapped financially, hiring a well-trained HR staff to handle Form I-9 employment verification just isn’t feasible. 

The solution? As the restaurant industry becomes increasingly tech-driven, leveraging tabletop POS systems and services like Yelp reviews to create more efficiencies and enhance the brand experience, it only makes sense that operators also use tech to help mitigate the headaches associated with employee verification. 

As employee verification and other regulations increasingly plague businesses in the restaurant industry, tech-driven providers of employment law compliance solutions for employers could be the ultimate solution. These human capital platforms would shoulder a substantial portion of the employment-related compliance responsibilities on behalf of the operator, not only relieving them of administrative duties, but also freeing them from the risk of costly penalties.

There’s a lot more to the Form I-9 than it would appear. Even employers that intend to be fully compliant are at risk of incorrectly completing their Form I-9 paperwork and are therefore subject to detrimental fees. Specifically, employers in the restaurant industry who are constantly onboarding new talent are at even higher risk, and must ensure they’re remaining compliant with every employee they onboard. Rather than paying to bring on an HR staff, restaurant operators today should tap tech to help, as they’re increasingly doing with other aspects of their business.