These mistakes can cost you time and money…lots of money.

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This podcast will focus on another key driver of business potential – your human resources plan. Steve Cesare is The Harvest Group’s point person to help companies improve their human resources programs. He is also writing a monthly series for Lawn & Landscape magazine identifying the “Top Ten Most Serious Human Resources Mistakes” that companies typically make.

The Grow Show will highlight those topics each month as part of its continuing podcast series. The first begins with the “Tenth Most Serious Human Resources Mistake” that companies make – the I-9 Form.

Why is the I-9 Form is so important to landscaper contractors?

Compliance with federal immigration laws is a top priority for many landscapers.  The I-9 form is the primary document used by U.S. government to determine if an employee is authorized to work in this country legally.

What are some of the common errors that landscapers make with their I-9 Forms?

  • First, landscapers must have an I-9 Form on file for every one of their employees who was hired after November 6, 1986.
  • Second, they must make sure they correctly complete the I-9 Form within three business days of the employee’s first day of work with their company.
  • Third, they must retain the I-9 Form for 3 years after the date the person begins work or 1 year after the person’s employment is terminated, whichever is later.
  • And finally, I-9 Forms must never be kept in an employee’s personnel file.  Instead, they must be kept in two separate binders, one for active employees and a separate binder for terminated employees

Severe fines and even jail time could result due to I-9 noncompliance. What are some of the consequences related to noncompliance?

  • An employer must pay a fine of at least $110 but not more than $1,100 for every mistake made on a single I-9 Form.  So, three mistakes on one employee’s I-9 Form could lead to $3,300 in fines. That’s why the employer must make sure the form is completed accurately. The same fines are also applied if the I-9 Forms are not retained in the correct manner or for the proper length of time.
  • Additionally, if a Department of Homeland Security investigation reveals an employer has falsified any document associated with the I-9 Form, the employer can be ordered to pay up to $6,500 for each fraudulent document.
  • Next if an employer has any personal knowledge of employing unauthorized aliens, the employer can be fined up to $3,200 for each unauthorized alien as a first offense, up to $6,500 for each unauthorized alien for a second offense; and up to $16,000 for each unauthorized alien for all subsequent offenses.
  • And finally, if the Department of Homeland Security determines that an employer has engaged in a pattern of “knowingly” hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens, the employer faces a criminal penalty of paying a $3,000 fine for each unauthorized alien, and/or serving six months in federal prison.

Common questions about I-9 Forms:

1.    Can employers accept photocopies of documents (e.g., passport, social security card, permanent resident alien card) to satisfy Section 2 of the I-9 Form?

No.  Only original documents can be submitted, reviewed, and approved.

2.    Do employers have to make photocopies of the documents submitted by employees to complete Section 2 of the I-9 Form?


3.    If an employer’s entire workforce is Caucasian, does he still have to complete the I-9 Forms on them?

Yes.  Every current employee hired after November 6, 1986 must have a completed I-9 Form on file.

4.    If a company only has a small number of employees, does it still have to complete the I-9 Forms?


5.    If a company uses E-verify does it still have to complete the I-9 Forms on all of its employees?


6.    If a company has an employee who has been with them for 15-20 years, does the employer have to have an I-9 Form for him?

If he was hired after November 6, 1986, the employer must have an I-9 Form for him.  Also, his I-9 Form must be checked periodically to ensure his documents have a current expiration date.

7.    Can a company fire an employee who does not produce the required I-9 documents or a receipt for an I-9 document within three business days of his start date?

Yes.  As long as the company applies this same practice uniformly to all employees.

8.    Does a company have to complete I-9 Forms on employees who will only work for them during the snow season and then be terminated in the spring time?


9.    Can a company make a photocopy of an I-9 Form?

Yes. The company should always copy both sides of the I-9 Form.

10.If a company thinks it has some unauthorized aliens working for it, what should the company do?

If the owner has any “personal” knowledge of unauthorized employees, the owner is at considerable risk.  The owner should contact the corporate attorney or qualified human resources professional to discuss appropriate action immediately.

What should landscapers do to avoid making this serious human resources mistake?

  • First, “Best in Class” companies train all appropriate staff (e.g., administrative, human resources, supervisors) on how to complete an I-9 Form correctly.
  • Second, they have a formal written policy declaring the company’s compliance with all immigration laws and I-9 Form procedures. This same message is clearly presented in their company’s Employee Handbook, staffing procedures and New Employee Orientation Program.
  • Third, they retain I-9 Forms according to the law. I-9 Forms must never be stored in the employee’s personnel file. They must be kept in a separate file. All current employees’ I-9 Forms should be kept in a single three-ring binder while a separate three-ring binder is used for all inactive employees’ I-9 Forms. Both binders should be alphabetized by employee last name.  This two-binder solution enables the company to track each group by its unique retention criteria:  one year post termination or three years post date of hire, whichever is later.
  • Fourth, “Best in Class” companies have an external human resources professional or employment attorney review their I-9 Forms each year.  This objective review can highlight omissions and errors, while demonstrating a clear commitment to self-maintenance and quality control.  This proactive effort may save the company significant money if it is ever audited by a governmental agency.
  • Fifth, “Best in Class” companies compile a spreadsheet that contains the expiration dates of every employee’s Section 2 documents. This spreadsheet can be sorted and reviewed periodically to ensure that ample advance notice (i.e., 90 days) is given to each employee so s/he can renew any document that will expire during that timeframe. Once the documents are renewed with a new expiration date, Section 3 of the I-9 Form must then be completed by the employer.
  • And last, to reduce the liability associated with potential national origin discrimination, “Best in Class” companies make sure that the I-9 process is always administered consistently across all employees. They do not treat any employee differently, for any reason.

If you have any questions about your company’s I-9 Forms, or any human resources related question, send an e-mail to Steve Cesare at [email protected].

Next month, Cesare will share the “Ninth Most Serious Human Resources Mistake Companies Make” when he shares some valuable insight about how to manage various types of employee leaves of absence.

Cindy Code

is an award-winning journalist who spent 22 years with Lawn & Landscape magazine communicating with contractors nationwide -- both in print and online — to help expand their businesses and to become more profitable. She is an active ambassador for the green industry as a founding member of Project EverGreen and the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association and also serves on the PLANET membership committee. As a member of the The Harvest Group, Cindy’s areas of focus will include: marketing and communications, social media, public relations, and research.