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Beginning on January 1, 2021, Florida’s new “Verification of Employment Eligibility” statute will require many employers to use the federal E-Verify system before hiring any new employees. This new law could force significant changes to your hiring practices. What do Florida employers need to know about this significant development?
Legislative Background And Campaign Promises
E-Verify was introduced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration as a voluntary program. However, many employers in Florida will soon be faced with mandatory implementation of the web-based system to confirm employment eligibility for new hires.
Under preexisting federal law, all employers are required to complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form for each new employee to verify the identity and eligibility of that employee to work in the United States. Since its inception in 1996, most states have also encouraged voluntary participation in the federal government’s E-Verify program, which compares information supplied by an employer from its Form I-9 to information available to the federal government from various databases. Only nine states require E-Verify for all employers.
Since 2011, E-Verify has been required on all state projects in Florida. However, following a nationwide trend of growing support for the federal employment verification system, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida Senate Bill 664 on June 30, requiring all public employers – as well certain private employers – to use E-Verify beginning January 1, 2021.
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2018, DeSantis vowed to mandate the use of E-Verify among all employers in the state. This was controversial and opposed not only by some immigrant advocacy groups, but also by business groups — especially those in agriculture, construction, and hospitality. Following Governor DeSantis’ signing of the bill, a spokesperson explained, “Given the high unemployment rate due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to ensure that the state’s legal residents benefit from jobs that become available as Florida continue to reopen in a safe and smart manner.” While the measure expands the use of E-Verify, Florida does not join the states that require use of the system in hiring practices for all employers.
What Does the New Law Require?
There are varying obligations for employers depending on whether they are public or private, and whether they contract with the state or receive certain state incentives.
Public Employers And Private Employers Who Contract With The State Or Receive State Incentives
Once in effect, every Florida public employer, along with their private contractors and subcontractors, must enroll in and use the E-Verify system to confirm the eligibility of all employees hired after January 1, 2021. No public contract can be entered into without an E-Verify certificate.
Any contractor who hires a sub must require an affidavit stating that they don’t employ, contract with, or subcontract with any unauthorized immigrants. Importantly, this affidavit provides for all newly hired employees, not just those working on government contracts. This affidavit must be kept by the general contractor for the duration of the contract and all contractors will need to go through this process for each public project.
If a public employer has a good faith belief that these requirements have been knowingly violated, it can terminate the contract, without liability for breach of contract, or demand that its contractor terminate any noncompliant subcontractors. Terminations for purported violations of these requirements may be challenged in court within 20 days of the date of termination. However, if the contractor is in fact found guilty, the contractor will be barred from public contracting for at least a year after termination and may be held liable for any additional costs associated with the termination.
In addition to private employers who contract with public entities, these new E-Verify employment eligibility requirements will also apply to employers who receive taxpayer-funded incentives through the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Beginning on January 1, 2021, the DEO will not approve an economic development incentive application unless the application includes proof that the applicant business is registered with and uses the E-Verify system in the eligibility verification process for all newly hired employees. Should the DEO make a final determination that an awardee has failed to be compliant, the employer will be forced to repay all moneys received by the DEO as an economic incentive.
E-Verify For All Other Private Employers
For private employers who do not contract with the state or receive state incentives, Florida law will now require these private employers to use E-Verify, or alternatively use the Form I-9 and maintain copies of the documents used to complete the Form for three years (which is optional under federal law). If the E-Verify certificate or Form I-9 documentation is requested by certain parties (such as the State Attorney, Attorney General, Department of Law Enforcement, etc.), the employer must provide them with proof of the employee’s eligibility.
Private employers accused of non-compliance will be provided notice from the DEO and the employer must terminate any unauthorized employees, begin complying with the legal procedures, and respond with an affidavit of compliance within 30 days. Failure to do so risks potential suspension of existing licenses until the employer provides such an affidavit. If an employer fails to properly respond to a DEO notice three times in any 36-month period, it could permanently lose its business licenses and may be liable for additional civil or criminal liabilities.
The E-Verify requirements will also go into effect for the private sector on January 1, 2021. This new law will not apply to any employees that were hired before then. However, any existing employment contracts that need to be renewed or extended after that date will be required to go through the verification process without going through the E-Verify process.
Ensuring Compliance Readiness Is The Next Step for Employers
Public employers in Florida and those who bid on contracts with the state should be ready to comply with the new law by updating their onboarding and new hire practices. Private employers who choose not to use E-Verify should continue to complete and maintain Form I-9 verification records, including copies of the documents that were reviewed. The enforcement procedures under the new E-Verify mandate are significant, and failure to comply can seriously impact your ability to do business within the state.
Notably, government scrutiny of employment verification records at both the state and federal level has the potential to increase when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. You can prepare for government reviews by periodically auditing your employment verification records to ensure you have been completed fully and properly.
Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently relaxed I-9 requirements for employers operating remotely as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, employers are still left with some questions on how to meet their obligations in this uncertain time.
Under federal guidance, employers are temporarily no longer be required to review an employee’s identity and work authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. Instead, inspection of these documents can be conducted remotely (e.g., by video, fax, or email).
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), “if employers are performing inspections remotely (e.g., over video link, fax or email, etc.) they must obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the Section 2 documents within three business day of hire. In addition to completing Section 2, Employers also should enter ‘COVID-19’ in the Additional Information field.”
Then, when “normal operations resume,” all employees whose documents were presented via remote verification must, within three business days, undergo the required “in-person” examination of documents. The person conducting the physical examination should write the words “documents physically examined” in the Additional Information box in Section 2, and should include their name and the date of inspection.
It is important to keep in mind that the DHS’s relaxed requirements apply only to employers who are operating remotely. According to the guidance, if there are employees physically present at a work location, then you must follow the normal in-person physical inspection rules. However, if newly hired employees or existing employees of an employer who still has employees present at a work location are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown protocols, “DHS will evaluate this on a case-by-case basis.”
While employers appreciate the DHS’s temporary relaxation of the in-person document inspection rules, some questions are not addressed by either DHS or USCIS. Here are the most common questions we have seen and the best practices to follow.
On Jan. 31, 2020, USCIS published the Form I-9 Federal Register notice announcing a new version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, that the Office of Management and Budget approved on Oct. 21, 2019. This new version contains minor changes to the form and its instructions. Employers should begin using this updated form as of Jan. 31, 2020.
The notice provides employers additional time to make necessary updates and adjust their business processes. Employers may continue using the prior version of the form (Rev. 07/17/2017 N) until April 30, 2020. After that date, they can only use the new form with the 10/21/2019 version date. The version date is located in the lower left corner of the form.
USCIS made the following changes to the form and its instructions:
Revised the Country of Issuance field in Section 1 and the Issuing Authority field (when selecting a foreign passport) in Section 2 to add Eswatini and Macedonia, North per those countries’ recent name changes. (Note: This change is only visible when completing the fillable Form I-9 on a computer.)
A revised Spanish version of Form I-9 with a version date of 10/21/2019 is available for use in Puerto Rico only.
The federal government’s Form I-9, used by HR departments across the country to verify workers’ employment eligibility, is expiring at the end of this month.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to extend the current version of the form (marked 8/31/2019) without changes, although minor clarifications will be made to the form’s instructions. The agency has directed employers to continue using the current version of the form despite the expiration date until a revised version is available.
Here are three of the proposed revisions:
In the past week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has significantly increased the number of Notices of Inspection issued to employers nationwide, leading to a dramatic spike in I-9 audits. Unlike the enforcement initiative rolled out by federal authorities in February of this year, the latest sweep is no longer concentrated in Southern California but appears to be nationwide in scope.
There appears to be somewhat of a pattern with regard to which employers are targeted by this effort. ICE seems to be focusing on businesses operating in states, counties, and cities that have designated “sanctuary” status, and has also ramped up efforts to follow up with employers who have been subject to an I-9 audit in the past.
Regardless of whether you fall into either of these two categories, you are at increased risk of a visit from federal immigration authorities. What should you do today to prepare for a possible knock on the door from federal officials tomorrow?
The federal government’s electronic employment verification system will be unavailable this weekend due to system upgrades.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that E-Verify will be shut down from midnight March 23 to 8 a.m. March 26 Eastern Time. E-Verify users are encouraged to complete and close any open cases prior to the system shutdown.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration will not be able to assist employees with case resolution issues during the outage. myE-Verify, the system’s resource portal for workers, will also be unavailable.
“During the suspension, employers will not be able to access their E-Verify accounts and employees will be unable to resolve E-Verify tentative nonconfirmations,” said Michael H. Neifach, an attorney in the Wahington, D.C., regional office of Jackson Lewis. “The E-Verify outage does not change any Form I-9 requirements,” he added. “Form I-9s must be completed no later than three business days after employment.”
To minimize the shutdown’s impact, the agency stipulated:
USCIS is prepping for a move to an upgraded user interface later this month. Enhanced features are expected to include a streamlined process for creating and managing cases, modernized data-matching to reduce tentative nonconfirmations, and improved data integrity.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released an updated version of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. The new Form I-9, dated 11/14/2016N, will become mandatory on Jan. 22, 2017, replacing the version dated 03/08/2013 N, which may continue to be used until Jan. 21, 2017.
The new Form I-9, which must be used for all newly hired employees and those who require the re-verification of their U.S. employment eligibility, contains a number of new features, including but not limited to:
1) Clarification of the “other names used” field in Section to request only “other last names used” and the numbering of immigration status categories in Section 1;
2) Additional details regarding the preparer/translator category, including the ability to select multiple preparers/translators;
3) A designated area to enter additional information that previously needed to be entered as a margin note, such as the auto-extension of an individual’s work-authorized status, where applicable;
4) A separate page (Page 3) for Section 3 of the Form I-9;
5) Additional prompts and electronic enhancements, such as drop-down lists and calendars, to facilitate the proper entry of required information.
The current version of the Form I-9, the most fundamental tool used to determine if applicants are eligible to work in the U.S., expired on March 31. Until further notice, though, employers should keep using the expired form until the recently proposed “smart” I-9 is in effect, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Dave Basham, a senior analyst in the verification division at USCIS, has been answering the following question a lot recently: “What will happen on March 31, 2016, when the Form I-9 expires?” Basham says: “Employers should continue to use the current version of the form as it continues to be effective even after the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] control number expiration date March 31, 2016, has passed.”
On March 28, 2016, USCIS published a second round of proposed changes to the form in the Federal Register, giving the public 30 days to comment. Once the comment period ends April 27 and comments are considered, USCIS may make further changes before sending the proposal to OMB, which will need to review and approve it. The form will be available for download at www.uscis.gov upon being approved.
“Employers must continue to use the current version of Form I-9 until the proposed version is approved and posted on the USCIS website,” said Amy Peck, an immigration attorney in the Omaha, Neb., office of Jackson Lewis.
The proposed, revised form is designed to address frequent points of confusion that arise for both employees and employers.
The proposed changes specifically aim to help employers reduce technical errors for which they may be fined, and include:
The proposed changes will have far-reaching impact because all employers are required to complete and maintain the Form I-9 for each employee hired to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States.
Failure to thoroughly complete I-9 paperwork has left an event-planning company with a fine of $605,250 (the largest amount ever ordered) serving as a reminder that employers need to be taking I-9 compliance very seriously.
On July 8, 2015, the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), which has jurisdiction to review civil penalties for I-9 violations, ordered Hartmann Studios to pay the fine for more than 800 I-9 paperwork violations.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audited the company in March 2011.
The bulk of the violations charged against Hartmann were due to a repeated failure to sign section 2 of the I-9 form. Employers are required to complete and sign section 2 within three business days of a hire, attesting under penalty of perjury that the appropriate verification and employment authorization documents have been reviewed.
ICE found 797 I-9s where section 2 was incomplete. About half of these incomplete forms related to individuals from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union Local 16A, who worked for Hartmann on a project-by-project basis during the term of a collective bargaining agreement. Even though the union workers worked on a project-by-project basis, they were not terminated upon completion of a project and remained “on-call.” The union created a “three-in-one” form that combined a portion of a W-4 form, parts of sections 1 and 2 of an I-9 form, and a withholding authorization for union dues. No separate I-9 form was completed for these workers nor did Hartmann sign section 2 of the union form.
Hartmann could have been charged with the more-substantive offense of having failed to prepare any I-9 form at all for the 399 union members, because the union’s form is not compliant, but OCAHO declined to do so.
Hartmann told OCAHO it believed that the union form was sufficient to confirm that the workers had proper employment authorization, and that nothing further needed to be done to confirm their eligibility for employment. The company also said that it did not know signing section 2 of the form was a legal requirement.
In addition to failing to sign section 2, Hartmann was also cited for:
This case demonstrates the need for employers to conduct routine self-audits of their I-9 inventories to ensure that the forms have been properly completed and retained and are ready for inspection.
Employers should also ensure that acceptable proof of audits and training is kept so that it may be used as evidence of good faith in court proceedings.