How E-Verify and IMAGE certification can confirm employment eligibility for new hires Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2010

Some employees at your company may be hiding a big secret from you: They’re legally not allowed to work for you or even in this country. Over the past several years, there has been an increase in people using sophisticated fraudulent information to secure employment, whether through false documents, false benefit applications or even identity theft.

“Unfortunately, that sophistication has made it next to impossible for employers to be sure they’re not employing illegal aliens,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. “Even companies with the best of intentions often find themselves open to fines and civil penalties if they’re audited.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about how employers can use the E-Verify and IMAGE certification programs and what to do if you find a problem with a new hire.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an online system operated jointly between the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Participating employers can check the work status of their new hires by comparing information from an employee’s I-9 form against what the SSA and DHS have on their databases. E-Verify is free, and currently, in Georgia, it’s voluntary unless you are a state agency or provide services to a state agency.

After registering, companies sign documents stating that they will post written notice in their hiring facilities; this allows applicants to know you’re currently enrolled in E-Verify. E-Verify can only be used on new hires. If a company wants to verify its current employees, it must electronically submit its payroll to the SSA via the Social Security Number Verification Service.

What is IMAGE certification?

IMAGE is short for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement between Government Employers. It is a joint initiative between the government and businesses to strengthen hiring practices in the private industry by reducing the size of the illegal work force. IMAGE certification is a free service.

How can companies implement these programs into their business practices?

Companies who are interested in E-Verify can log on to DHS’s Web site (www.dhs.gov/index.shtm) and register, print off a few forms and mail them in. After you’ve registered, DHS will contact you and provide online training. Once you’ve completed the training, your employees must pass an exam before utilizing the Web site.

Enrolling in IMAGE is a bit more extensive. Companies must currently use E-Verify and agree to an audit of their I-9s by ICE. Companies also must agree to submit their current payroll to the SSA and implement a few ICE-suggested programs. Interested companies may log on to ICE’s Web site (www.ice.gov) and register for information. You may then request an in-person meeting with an IMAGE coordinator.

What should an employer do if it finds an employee mismatch?

The beauty of E-Verify is that it not only alerts you to a nonconfirmation of eligibility but it also guides you through the process. If a nonconfirmation comes back, you print a letter to the employee that lets him or her know that there has been a mismatch. The employee either chooses not to contest the results and self-terminates or goes to the local Social Security office and speaks with someone there. If the employee chooses to contest, he or she has eight days to return with proper paperwork. During the eight days, you must continue to employ that person. If he or she does not return, you may terminate the individual.

What makes a fraudulent document stand out?

Check Social Security cards carefully. Many times fraudulent documents have misspelled words, the font is different or is an irregular color. If the back of the card is blank, it is fraudulent.

What are the benefits of using E-Verify and IMAGE certification?

E-Verify almost completely eliminated our Social Security mismatch letters. It has also improved the accuracy of wage and tax reporting and ensures companies are maintaining a legal work force. E-Verify has recently implemented a photoscreening tool, so when you are verifying your employee’s right to work in the U.S., it has a photo of what the person should look like, which eliminates identity fraud, as well.

With IMAGE certification, there are several benefits, one of which is free training to your staff. You also receive a two-year respite from any I-9 audits after you enroll. If for any reason your company faces civil penalties for employing illegal workers, the good faith participation in IMAGE is considered when fines are assessed.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.