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In accordance with federal law, all individuals hired by the church are required to establish and certify their identity and right to work in the United States. Individuals employed in the United States are required to complete Section 1 of the Form I-9 no later than their first day of employment. This may be completed prior to the first day of employment so long as an offer of employment has been made. Then, individuals are required to produce, within three business days of the date employment begins, proof of their identity and eligibility to work in the United States to their employer for completion of Section 2.

It can certainly be beneficial to conduct an internal audit of the churches I-9 records. Conducting an I-9 audit can be critical to compliance efforts and to identify best practices.  

If the church does not address the problems it found in the audit, it can increase its liability. In other words, the audit would be evidence against the church because then the mistakes were equivalent to willful violations (assuming no corrective action was taken). Fines and penalties for willful violations tend to be much more serious and can impart personal liability for those involved.

To minimize the risk of audit findings being used against the church, it is recommended to have a committee conduct this audit to determine any oversight. 

I-9 records must be maintained for the full length of employment. Once employment has ended, I-9 records must be maintained for three years after the date or hire, or one year after termination of
employment, whichever period of time is longer. Churches are not required to have Forms I-9 for employees hired on or before November 6, 1986.

It is recommended that churches keep all I-9 records in either a separate master file or three-ring binder. Because I-9 files are subject to unique record retention laws, a separate master file or three-ring binder will help ensure that the church retains the Forms I-9 for as long as necessary and can readily discard them after the retention period expires. No matter how the church chooses to store Forms I-9, they must be able to present them to
government officials for inspection within three days of the date on which the forms were requested.

Churches are not required to make copies of employee documents for completion of the I-9 process. However, the church may have a policy or practice to do so. Should the church choose to make copies
of documents its employee presents, they must do so for all employees, regardless of national origin, citizenship status, or any other protected class. Photocopies of documents provided for the I-9 should be stapled to the I-9 and not used for any other purpose. Additionally, making copies of documents provided for the I-9 does not negate the churches responsibilities to fully and accurately complete Section 2, the employer’s section.

Correcting Records

Errors found on I-9 records should be corrected promptly. The following tips may help the church correct or adjust these records. It is important to remember to never back-date the signatures on the
Form I-9; the current date should always be entered and initialed for changes.

I-9 Section 1: Employee Errors
If an employee made a minor mistake in filling out Section 1 of the Form I-9, request that they correct the issue. The employee should draw a line through the incorrect information, enter the correct
information, and initial and date the correction. The church may not correct an error made by the employee in Section 1. The church should attach a written explanation of what happened, and the
correction made to the Form I-9.

I-9 Section 2: Employer Errors
If the church discovers that an employee failed to provide adequate documentation to complete Section 2 of the Form I-9, the church should promptly request the appropriate documents from the
List of Acceptable Documents. Once provided, enter the missing documents into Section 2 of the Form I-9. The church should attach a written explanation of what happened, and the correction made to
the Form I-9.

If the employee’s employment has ended, the church should attach a written explanation about the incorrect or omitted information to the employee’s Form I-9. 

The church may only correct errors to Section 2 or 3 of the Form I-9. To correct a mistake, draw a line through the portion(s) of the form that contains incorrect information, then enter the correct
information. Initial and date the correction. It is recommended that the church attach a written explanation to the corrected Form I-9 explaining what happened. Be sure to sign and date the note in
addition to the log below.

Significant errors or omissions by the employee or the church may require that a new Form I-9 be completed. Attach a note to the corrected Form I-9 explaining what happened. Retain the original Form I-9 attached to the new Form if a new Form is completed.

To correct multiple recording errors on the form, the church may re-complete the section(s) on a new Form I-9 and attach it to the old Form. A new Form I-9 can be completed if major errors (such as entire sections being left blank or Section 2 being completed based on unacceptable documents) need to be corrected. A note should be included in the file regarding the reason the church made changes to an existing Form I-9 or completed a new Form I-9. This should be attached to the original Form I-9.

Wrong Version of the I-9 on File
If the church discovers an outdated, expired Form I-9 was completed after the publication of a new version, but the I-9 documentation presented was acceptable under the I-9 rules that were current at
the time of hire, the church should rectify the error. Churches have two options to do so.

  1. The best way would be for the church and employee to complete the current version of Form I-9 and staple the previously completed Form I-9 to the current version. Include an
    explanation of what happened and sign and date the explanation.
  2. If the church is unable to have the employee complete the current version of Form I-9, the church should:
    a. Staple the outdated, but complete I-9, to the current version;
              i. Sign the current Form I-9 version;
              ii. Include an explanation of why the current version is attached
              iii. Sign and date the explanation; or
    b. Draft an explanation of the situation
              i. Sign and date the explanation
              ii. Attach the explanation to the completed outdated Form I-9

    Missing I-9
    If the church discovers a missing Form I-9, the church and the employee must promptly complete a new Form I-9. The employee must complete Section 1 of the Form I-9, and their signature should not be back-dated. The church must complete Section 2 of the Form I-9 and enter the applicable documents
    into the appropriate list(s). As for the dates in Section 2, the following applies:

  • For the date the employee began employment in the Certification block of Section 2: enter the employee’s original start date with the church.
  • For the date in the employer’s signature block, enter the date the church reviewed the employee’s documents, thus completing the Form I-9. Do not back-date this date.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department requires that a Form I-9 is completed as soon as possible when it is determined one isn’t on file and requires that an employee does not back-date the form. The church should attach a written explanation about the newly completed Form I-9 to the employee’s Form I-9.

Failing to fully complete an I-9 for each employee is a violation of federal law and subject to penalties. If an employee is unable or refuses to produce the required document(s) for completion of the I-9 – either at the time of hire or when an I-9 is determined missing during an audit – the church may not lawfully continue to employ them.

Correcting Errors
The church should not conceal any changes made on the Form I-9, either by the church or employee. Do not erase, white-out, or black-out text. Do not back-date signatures on the Form I-9.

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Clergy Financial Resources serves as a resource for clients to help analyze the complexity of clergy tax law, church payroll & HR issues. Our professionals are committed to helping clients stay informed about tax news, developments and trends in various specialty areas.

This article is intended to provide readers with guidance in tax matters. The article does not constitute, and should not be treated as professional advice regarding the use of any particular tax technique. Every effort has been made to assure the accuracy of the information. Clergy Financial Resources and the author do not assume responsibility for any individual’s reliance upon the information provided in the article. Readers should independently verify all information before applying it to a particular fact situation, and should independently determine the impact of any particular tax planning technique. If you are seeking legal advice, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.

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