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Check Up or Pay Up: I-9 Compliance Fines Hit CA Company

On July 8, 2015, the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), issued a decision finding Hartmann Studios, Inc. "liable for 808 violations of 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(a)(1)(B)", namely hiring workers in the United States without properly examining and documenting the employees' identity and immigration documents. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) argued that Hartmann engaged in 818 violations; requesting $812,665.25 in civil penalties.

Many employers don’t realize the importance of the I-9, or Employment Eligibility Verification form, which has been required since 1986 as part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Since the I-9 form was revised in 2013, I-9 scrutiny has been on the rise and employers need to prioritize compliance by having a complete understanding of the requirements and following them to the letter of the law. Depending on the type of I-9 violation and the number of offenses, penalties can range from $110 per violation to $16,000 per violation and six months in prison.

In the Hartmann case, Judge Ellen K. Thomas found that "employment verification procedures are sufficiently defective to foreclose a claim of either good faith or substantial compliance". In a small consolation for the company, Judge Thomas determined some of the violations were not as grievous as argued by ICE,  and downgraded the financial penalty. Hartmann was fined $605,250.

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Lisa Shapira