Ask an Advisor: Completing an I-9 for a Remote Worker? You Might Need to Get Creative

As an HR Knowledge Advisor, members regularly ask me how they should complete the Form I-9 for a new hire who will be working remotely from another state. Since the pandemic began, and remote work has become increasingly common, this question comes up quite frequently.

As HR professionals know, when completing Section 2 of the Form I-9, employers must view employees’ original supporting documents—not photocopies, not e-mailed pictures, not images over Zoom or Skype. So how can an employer comply with this requirement when its new hire is hundreds of miles away? Luckily, because companies may designate any person as their representative for I-9 purposes, employers have multiple options.

One common solution used by employers is a notary public. Notaries are everywhere. A new hire can likely find one at a local bank, public library or simply through a quick Google search of local notary services. Naturally, notaries are trusted by employers because they are familiar with completing official documents. It’s important to note, however, when completing an I-9, the notary is acting as a representative of the employer, not in the notary’s official capacity, and should not include their notary seal on the form. Keep in mind that some states, such as California and Texas, have restrictions on the use of notaries for I-9 completion so employers will need to check state laws for compliance.

Another option is to solicit the assistance of a local business. In the past, I have suggested to members that they identify a local, temporary staffing agency that might be willing to help a fellow HR professional either for free or a small fee. Temp agencies are constantly onboarding new employees, so they are no stranger to the I-9 forms. I’ve also heard of employers directing their new hires to a nearby Target or other big-box store for assistance. Additionally, if the new employee left a former employer on good terms, the HR department might be willing to lend a helping hand.

As I mentioned above, an employer may designate any person—really anyone—as its employer representative for the purpose of the I-9. This means that even a spouse, neighbor or roommate can be designated as the representative to complete Section 2 of the form. The critical thing to remember here, though, is that whoever serves as the representative is acting on behalf of the employer. As such, any errors made by that individual become the liability of the employer.

If all else fails, or if you’d just like the comfort of knowing that your I-9 is in capable hands, there are several vendors available for this very purpose. Some companies will connect the new hire with an actual trained professional to serve as the employer representative, while others will virtually walk the designated representative through the process step by step.

It is also worth mentioning that, at the start of the pandemic, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instituted a temporary rule allowing employers to virtually review the I-9 supporting documents of new hires working remotely out of precaution due to COVID-19. Once normal operations resume, the rule requires those employers to conduct an in-person inspection of the documentation for those employees who had been previously verified virtually, within three business days of the employee returning to the office. While this rule is only temporary, and not applicable to all remote-work situations, a proposed rule for permanent document inspection of remote workers was released in August 2022. The proposed rule may give employers more options when examining I-9 documents for new hires soon.

 If you want to know more about how to onboard remote workers, or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!

SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist members with their HR-related inquiries.

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