In recent years, order the US government has increased its enforcement efforts regarding immigration and the businesses employing undocumented immigrants. Since 2009, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has performed over 9,000 audits on businesses and dished out over $100 million in fines to violators. An increase of over 500% has been seen in these audits from 2012 to the present.

While fines are often minimal, the real cost of being audited by ICE is the loss of workforce and damage to the brand. One company, who was audited in 2012, lost 43% of their workforce due to unverified I-9 forms. The company was only fined $800, but estimates that loses due to the audit rose to over $1 million. How can you prevent your businesses from falling victim to falsified I-9 forms? Here’s 3 ways to make sure you’re on top of your game.

Prepare for the Worst

Whether your restaurant employs 10 people, or 100, assume that you may be audited at any time. This level of preparedness will force your hand in proper bookkeeping and government form filing. Small businesses are not immune to ICE audits, as a large number of businesses with 25 employees or less are audited each year. Have management perform internal I-9 audits on ensure that every employee’s records are accurate. Constant monitoring of these records can make an ICE audit a breeze, since the business is given 2 weeks after the audit in completed to correct discrepancies before action is taken.

Practice Proper Protocol

Practicing proper protocol when dealing with any government forms for employment or taxes is vital to making sure nothing slips through the cracks or goes overlooked. If your business has HR staff, be sure they are up to date on regulations and policies regarding immigration, as they are constantly changing. Good record keeping can help solve problems that arise quickly, by being able to pull any forms on employees at a moment’s notice.

Use Tools Provided

The United States Customs and Immigration Service provides business owners with a myriad of resources to educated owners and employees about the policies surrounding I-9 verification and the risks that are associated with falsifying information on them. E-Verify is also a great to use during hiring. The system can run the information from I-9s against data from US passports, visa, immigration records, driver’s licenses databases, and social security records to verify that the I-9 information is accurate and not falsified. The system also displays a photo, when available, for additional confirmation.

How does all this relate to a restaurant, even a small restaurant that surely follows all the proper employment processes? It is no secret that the restaurant industry is one of the largest employers of immigrants. Research shows that more than 20% of the nation’s cooks and more that 30% of dishwashers are undocumented immigrants. Many experts and veterans of the restaurant industry claim that the crackdown on undocumented workers could cause series harm to a restaurant, as their costs can skyrocket due to labor expenses, legal fees, and potential fines. All of those costs end up trickling down to menus, where increased prices fight to make up for the new, higher, costs.

As immigration reform continues to crackdown on undocumented workers and the companies that employ them, it’s important as a business owner to continually revisit company hiring policies, audit I-9 information regularly, and utilize the tools made available by the government to ensure that you are staying within the law. Saving money by paying illegal employees under the table may cost your much, much more in the long run.

Has your business ever been audited by ICE? Leave a comment to discuss your experience, or ask any questions you may have about how to avoid getting “ICE’d.”

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