Does Form I-9 Need to Be Filed Separately From Personnel Documents?
Employment compliance is a tricky but necessary component of any HR team's responsibilities. This includes new hire documentation such as Form I-9, which comes with its own set of rules and regulations. Does it matter where employers store these forms, and are there laws that require I-9s to be stored separately from personnel documents?
What is Form I-9?
Every United States employee is required by law to fill out a Form I-9 when they begin a new job. This document verifies an employee's identity and eligibility to work in the country. Employees must also complete the form for it to be properly validated. Employees accomplish this by providing employers with predetermined documentation that establishes their identity and employment eligibility, including:
- U.S. passport or U.S. passport card
- Permanent resident card or alien registration receipt card (Form I-551)
- Driver’s license
- U.S. Social Security card
- For a full list of acceptable documents, go to USCIS.gov
Once an employer has verified each employee’s I-9 in person, the employer is required to store all I-9s for three years or one year following termination—whichever comes last.
Should Form I-9 Be Stored Separately?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that Form I-9 files and personnel information should maintained apart from one another. USCIS states that forms may be stored electronically or on paper, microfilm, or microfiche.
Employers should follow this guidance to protect employee information. Storing I-9s and personnel files is an easy way to stay compliant and to protect employee information. Organizations can even use HRIS platforms to store employee documents and data with permissions set so that only HR can access employee I-9 information.
Additionally, separate storage can add an extra safeguard against a potential audit, which are conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE conducts in-person verification audits according to deadlines that are updated each year.
Can Employers Be Sued Based on How They Store Form I-9?
There is no risk of a lawsuit for failure to file I-9s separately from personnel files. However, there are penalties that can be levied against employers if they do not meet or purposefully ignore certain immigration law requirements.
The most present risk of litigation relates to how HR stores these documents and where they're stored. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of national origin or citizenship status—information contained in every I-9.
If this protected information is exposed to an unauthorized individual and then used to discriminate against another employee, the victim of discrimination has the right to sue their employer.
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