The I-9 form, a mandatory government form issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is used to verify an employee’s identity and legal right to work in the U.S. You must complete the form, and review the required verification documents, within three days of hiring a new employee.

Completing the form and verification process thoroughly and accurately helps ensure you don’t inadvertently hire illegal workers – and also protects your business against government fines and lawsuits. Keep in mind that even if your employees are legally authorized to work in this country, you still can face stiff penalties for inaccurate or incomplete I-9 forms.

Here are six critical steps to getting this federal requirement right.

1. Use the most up-to-date I-9 form

For all new hires, you should be using the Form I-9 with the date 11/14/2016 in the bottom left corner. It’s important to note the Form I-9 is expected to change again as soon as this summer. If this happens as expected, you’ll need to use the new version no later than September 2017.

2. Don’t overlook the details

You can be fined for leaving out basic information, such as your business name or address. Mistakes this simple can be costly — from $216 to $2,156 per violation. If you find any omissions after a form has been completed (whether it’s weeks, months or years later), write in the correct information and initial and date the change.

3. Confirm you have a form on file for everyone on staff

Under record retention rules, you must hold on to the Form I-9 for three years after the employee’s hire date or one year after the employee’s last day of work with your company – whichever comes later. Simply put, this means you should have an I-9 on file for all current employees, as well as for all workers who have recently left the company. And just a reminder: You have to have a Form I-9 on file even if you know the person is a U.S. citizen.

4. File I-9 forms together

You should keep all I-9 records together, apart from other employee personnel records. Storing your I-9s separately from other records helps limit your exposure in an audit or investigation by keeping unrelated documents out of the inquiry.

5. Don’t keep photocopies

You’re not required to keep copies of the employment eligibility documents employees provide (such as their Social Security cards, green cards or passports). In fact, most employment law attorneys recommend against this. Should you decide to keep copies, be certain you do so for every worker so your process is consistent.

6. Conduct periodic audits of your I-9 forms

A self-audit can go a long way toward minimizing fines in the event of an I-9 audit. The main objectives of an audit are to fix mistakes, discard records you no longer need to retain and, most important, ensure you’re not employing an undocumented worker. Learn how to properly conduct an internal I-9 audit here.

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