Employers could soon have another option when it comes time to onboarding new employees. Currently, unless an employee works exclusively in a remote setting due to COVID-19 precautions, employers must inspect work authorization documents (Form I-9) in person. The flexibility for remote workers will end on October 31, 2022. However, this may change, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule on August 18.
This proposal would permit the government to consider other options for examining employee documents. This change includes the opportunity for utilizing remote inspection for all employee I-9 documents.
The temporary flexibility allowed remote inspection of employees’ identities and Form I-9s during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, this flexibility enables employers to remotely review or re-verify the work authorization documents of new hires and current employees when workplaces were inaccessible. However, when employees returned to in-person work, employers knew they must review these documents in person.
The proposed rule, Optional Alternatives to the Physical Document Examination, does not provide new protocols for reviewing documents. However, it does permit the DHS to design a pilot program that would test alternative procedures for remote examination of I-9 papers, testing their compliance and effectiveness.
The proposed rule also permits the Secretary of the DHS to enact regulations for temporarily reviewing documents remotely during public health or national emergencies. However, any alternative document review procedures must have a level of security equal to the current in-person document review requirements.
The most significant advantage of remote document inspection would be examining and verifying I-9 documents from one location or remotely. This change is more convenient than inspecting the forms at every location and having an authorized representative present to review the paperwork.
Remotely inspecting documents could also save companies money. This inspection removes the need to travel to the workplace for an in-person review of their paperwork. However, there may be set-up costs to ensure the company complies with any requirements for the new procedures.
The new rule is not likely to take effect until some time in 2023. However, the DHS may extend the Form I-9 requirement flexibility to make up for the time between now and then. Regardless, employers should not depend on this, and instead plan to review the remotely accepted identity and work authorization documents.
Completing Form I-9 can be challenging for employers who hire foreign nationals. These employees have many documents proving their authorization to work in the United States, which complicates the form. The best way to ensure a complete and accurate Form I-9 is using an electronic I-9 management tool. This system guides employers through the entire process and safely and securely stores Form I-9 and accompanying documents.
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