Minnesota has approximately 3,800 dairy farmers and most of them probably consider themselves at least good managers. They treat their cattle right and their employees with respect. It would appear they are getting things done that need to be done and getting them done right. On a recent farm visit I was reminded, however, that it is still up to the farmer to make sure those things do get done.
This farm has utilized an advisory team for several years to consider expansion plans, facility improvements, nutrition options and general management questions. Things have been going pretty well for the farm with milk production increases, appropriate changes to feeding systems and other tweaks to improve the productivity and profitability of the farm. One frequent discussion topic is the workforce which included mention of proper documentation for all employees and I-9s in the files.
A recent incident on the road between farmsteads triggered a major headache for the farm. A routine traffic stop to question a truck license plate triggered some problems when the officer decided to ask additional questions of the immigrant employee. The expanded investigation resulted in a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and their involvement. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked the farm for I-9s on all its employees. The farm was unable to produce a satisfactory, complete file of I-9s. The ICE is continuing its investigation and at some point will determine the penalty it may levy against the farm. The size of a penalty will depend on the number of employees who have missing records and whether ICE thinks the farm should have known some of these employees were improperly documented. All the farm can do now is to wait and hope the fine is not too large. Experience in other parts of the country suggests fines could be quite significant if the ICE so decides.
The lesson is that while advisors, educators and accountants are important members of management advisory teams, it is still the farmer who has to get the job done. A fact of life today is that getting proper documentation and keeping proper records on employees is just as important as delivering feed to the cows and getting them milked every day.
An I-9 is not a difficult document to obtain or fill out. Just be sure you are using the current version that was released in March of 2013. The form has complete instructions as well as the actual document to be filled out and retained. The I-9 form and its complete instructions are available free of charge at http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-9.pdf.
The document has three sections. Section 1 should be completed the first day the employee works for you. This establishes the identity of the employee and their knowledge of needing to provide proper documents to establish their right to work in the U.S.
In Section 2, employers verify they have viewed documents provided by employees that establishes their right to be employed. The form provides a list of acceptable documents. Never tell the employee what documents to provide; just give them the list of acceptable documents and let them decide what to provide. View original documents (no photocopies are allowed), do your best to determine their authenticity, and record all documents on the I-9. Finally, have the employee sign the document and put it in your files. This must all be completed within the first 3 days of employment for all employees regardless of citizenship status.
Section 3 of the form is used if the employee ever leaves your farm and then returns at some future date. Be sure to keep I-9 forms the appropriate length of time after an employee leaves your business. The instructions provide details.
With a little luck, you will never have to take that I-9 out for any reason other than to purge your files long after the employee has left your farm. If ICE ever questions your employees' right to work, you have the documentation to show your best efforts to determine their work eligibility. It may be tempting to keep a photocopy of the documents you were offered by the employee, but most advisors today suggest against it.
In the end, the whole thing boils down to what a rather well known comedian suggests, "Git 'er done!" You can save yourself a lot of headaches and perhaps some money as well.