The First Thing Every Church New Hire Must Do

By Raul Rivera

Many churches struggle to fully understand their obligations as an employer. The multitude of responsibilities pastors face can be overwhelming. It is easy to misunderstand and forget all that is required as an employer. 

While it is likely you have heard of W2s and 1099s, a lesser known and equally important document is Form I-9.

Form I-9 is a form that is used to verify the eligibility of an individual to work in the U.S. Every employer must use this form, and failing to use it could prove costly.

Let us explore why.

The importance of Form I-9

In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act was enacted to control and deter unlawful employment of immigrants in the United States. Employers are required to use Form I-9 to verify the identity and employment authorization of new employees hired after November 6, 1986.

Verifying employment eligibility is important. Although it may seem insignificant, completing the form is a fundamental part of the responsibility of being an employer.

In U.S.A. vs. Hartmann Studios, Inc., an administrative law judge wrote an opinion that reveals how serious the government takes enforcing the Form I-9 requirement.

Hartmann Studios, Inc. was fined $605,250 for failure to timely produce Form I-9s and failure to sign section 2 of Form I-9s for certain employees. Section 2 of the Form I-9 is where an employer attests that he/she has verified the documents necessary to prove an employee is eligible to work in the U.S.

Hartmann Studios, Inc. also failed to complete section 3 of Form I-9 for certain employees who, because of immigrant status, needed documents verified again to confirm employment authorization.

Had Hartmann Studios, Inc. been diligent in meeting the basic Form I-9 employment requirement, it could have been spared hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Whether or not your church has employees, it is important for you to become familiar with the requirements of Form I-9.

Next, let us take a closer look at the form.

A simple breakdown of how to understand Form I-9

As previously stated, employers are required to verify the employment eligibility of employees using Form I-9.

It is a simple form with a huge impact.

With that being said, we are going to look at its components to better understand your church’s responsibility regarding the form. (To better understand the following, please follow along with Form I-9. You may obtain a copy of the form by clicking here.)

Section 1 of Form I-9: Employee Information and Attestation

Section 1 of the form is used to obtain identifying information from the employee and to verify that he/she is eligible to work in the U.S.

An employee is required to complete section 1 under the penalty of perjury. In addition, an employee must provide a document that verifies both identity and employment authorization. The Form I-9 instructions have three lists of documents an employee may use.

An employee may provide one of the following in List A: (1) U.S. passport; (2) lawful permanent resident card; or (3) employment authorization document, etc.

However, if an employee cannot provide one of the documents in List A, he/she may provide combinations of other qualifying documents in List B and List C as proof of identity and employment authorization. These combinations may include:

  1. driver’s license and Social Security card, 
  2. school identification card and birth certificate, 
  3. voter’s registration card and U.S. citizen identification card, etc.

The main concern is to verify that the employee is who he/she claims to be and is lawfully permitted to work in the U.S.

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Section 2 of Form I-9: Employer or Authorized Representative Review and Verification

Section 2 is crucial as well. This is where the employer attests that he/she or an authorized representative has reviewed the required identity and employment verification documents provided by each employee.

Section 2 of the form must be completed no later than 3 days after the employee is hired.

It is important to note that an employee is permitted to use any of the documents listed in the instructions of Form I-9. Therefore, an employer cannot require that an employee use only selected documents.

In some instances, an employee may present a receipt showing proof of certain documents.

IMPORTANT: There are additional requirements noted in the instructions of Form I-9 pertaining to such receipts.

It is the employee’s responsibility to provide accurate documents, but ultimately the employers are responsible for receiving the documents and ensuring that all employees meet the eligibility requirements.

Section 3 of Form I-9: Reverification and Rehires

There are some situations that require another employment verification process. They are as follows:

  1. Rehiring an employee: If the employee is being hired again within three years of submitting a Form I-9, you can require a new Form I-9 or simply complete section 3 of the existing Form I-9.
  2. Employment authorization expiration: If an employee needs to renew employment authorization, section 3 must be completed to prove that the employee renewed it in a timely manner. The updated documents must be kept on file with employment records.

It is easier than you think

Though Form I-9 is a very important part of your organization’s employment process, it does not have to be a difficult one. 

Your church can add a few basic steps to your employment process to confirm that you comply with this requirement:

  1. Include employment eligibility questions in your hiring process.
  2. Require that a newly hired employee bring Form I-9 employment eligibility documents, such as a drivers license and Social Security card, etc., on the first day of employment. The three lists of documents that may be used are included in the Form I-9 instructions. Notifying a new employee of the Form I-9 requirements before the first day of employment gives them time to gather the necessary documents needed for employment verification.
  3. Make Form I-9 a part of your new hire package. If your church already has a new hire package of forms to fill out on the first day, simply add Form I-9 to the “first day on the job” requirements that are in place.
  4. Train your hiring staff and administrative team on the importance of Form I-9. Knowledge is power. By training your hiring staff and administrative team on the importance of Form I-9, you can be confident that this employer responsibility will be taken care of within the appropriate timeframe.

Additional things for every church and ministry to consider

There are additional factors to know and consider when hiring new employees for your church or ministry. The additional blogs listed below address these factors. These articles will prove to be a big help!

Lastly, consider attending one of our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences. During the conference you will gain an even deeper understanding of how to strategically set up your employment practices for maximum effectiveness and protection for your ministry.

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