Production Companies Allowed Remote I-9 Doc Verification During the COVID-19 Pandemic
UPDATED December 2020: The DHS has extended forbearance to January 31, 2021.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, it’s easy to imagine the little accommodations falling through the cracks, especially ones benefiting those of us still working production – the “nonessentials,” as it were.
But some good news has risen from the continually settling dust! The Department of Homeland Security announced that they are temporarily allowing remote review of I-9 required documentation at time of hire. With social distancing having become the new trending life hack, this is kinda huge, and a major win for this already tricky-to-navigate requirement.
The good stuff about the special remote I-9 forbearance
To comply with I-9 requirements in the wake of the declared COVID-19 National Emergency, employers who are operating in compliance with social distancing orders (aka Safer at Home, Shelter in Place, GTFO of the Office) will be allowed to complete Section 2 or 3 (verifying employee identity and eligibility) of the I-9 by reviewing documents remotely.
That means “via video link, fax, email, etc.” It’s that “etc.” part where TiM comes in!
As you know, TiM makes it easy for productions to designate multiple doc-checkers; in fact, it can be anyone/everyone production designates… the only footnote being that an employee cannot review their own documents.
The “eat your veggies too” part of the DHS order on remote I-9s
Once remote verification has taken place, the employer needs to write “COVID-19” as the reason for the delay of a physical inspection in the "additional information" portion of Section 2 or 3, as applicable. (We'll show you how to do that at the end of this article.)
The remote I-9 workaround was originally approved to be utilized for 60 days from the date of the notice (March 20) or three days after the cessation of the COVID-19 National Emergency declaration, whichever came first. But it has been extended multiple times now, on a month-to-month basis.
Upon resumption of normal business operations, employees onboarded using remote verification will need to report to their employer within three business days with documents handy for in-person verification. Once the employer has the opportunity to physically examine the documents, the employer should add the note “documents physically examined,” with the date of inspection, to Section 2 or 3.
Remote is the key word here for production employees
Only employers/businesses currently operating remotely are eligible for this temporary deference. Employers must be ready to provide written documentation of their remote work policies.
Productions looking for a get-out-of-physical-examination-free card should note this requirement; however, even if you have no sweeping remote work policy, if any new hires are specifically affected by any COVID-19 implemented quarantines, DHS will evaluate these and likely make an exception.
In case of audit…
Should an audit take place, the “in-person completed date” would be used as a starting point.
But speaking of audits, more good news. This additional forbearance also came down the pike: any employers served Notices of Inspection (NOIs) by DHS in the month of March 2020, who have not yet had the opportunity to respond, will be granted an automatic extension of 60 days beyond the effective date listed on the letter.
So we got that going for us. Which is nice.
Biggest caveat in the history of humankind
Now we’re about to show you how to remotely verify I-9 docs in the TiM system. GIANT CAVEAT TIME: under normal conditions, this is not an approved or legal practice to verify I-9 documentation.
At TiM, we pride ourselves on giving you the tools to do things right, to save you heartache and headache down the line (not to mention fines/penalty money).
The method we're showing here is only acceptable / advisable for the special conditions described above, in which the DHS has temporarily postponed the in-person requirement for sighting I-9 documents. This message will self destruct.
Right? ‘Nuff said. Okay, here it comes:
How to remotely verify I-9 documents in TiM
- Draft invite/deal as you normally would in TiM
- In the "note to crewmember" message box, add something along the lines of: "We have temporary authorization to verify your I-9 remotely. Please upload images of your IDs to TiM at the step immediately after you submit your packet. For security purposes, please do not email or text document images/info."
- Do the verification in TiM as you normally would, but referencing the uploaded docs instead of original, physical documents. Be sure to add the note "COVID-19" to the additional information box in Section 2 using TiM's "Add Text" tool.
- Keep a list of folks whose docs you verified remotely, as you'll need to do in-person verifications with them later on.
- When the time comes to in-person verify, print the I-9s from TiM so that you can write in “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection.
- Retain the annotated copy for your records.
We hope this helps make things a tiny bit easier while you’re trying to muddle through this complicated adventure. We will continue to monitor any updates relevant to the smooth-ish continued operation of your production.
If you have any questions about how to do this or anything else in TiM, as always please don't hesitate to reach out to us here. Also, the USCIS has put out some Form I-9 Examples Related to Temporary COVID-19 Policies here.
Let’s stay safe, stay together, but stand apart for now.
UPDATE: This post was updated to include the extended date of forbearance for in-person document verification (now August 19).
If you have questions, I’m here to help.