So, the short answer is…yes. Federal I-9 forms (documents that must be completed for all new hires to verify their eligibility to legally work in the US) and federal W-4 forms (documents that allow employees to determine how much federal income tax is withheld from their payroll checks) completed electronically are considered as valid and binding as if they were completed manually.
As organizations continue moving toward paperless forms and record-keeping, questions regarding the legitimacy of completing federal employment documents electronically come up quite frequently. A while back, I wrote a blog about a piece of legislation called the E-Sign Act of 2000 (as it’s most widely known). The act clarifies that federal documents like the I-9 and W-4 may be completed electronically, as long as the protocols for valid electronic signatures are followed.
Questions to Ask About Electronic Forms
While great news for organizations looking to streamline the new hire onboarding process, the use of electronic forms create follow up questions. HR professionals typically wonder how they can be sure that their process matches up with the E-Sign Act requirements, and how this may be easily (and affordably) offered to new hires, etc. However, one overriding issue invariably comes up in the course of considering this direction…“How do we file these electronic documents?”
There are dozens of solutions in the market that allow you to turn a paper document into an electronic one. What varies greatly is how these solutions present forms to new hires, the cost for the service, and the degree to which they ensure compliance with electronic signature requirements. But for organizations looking to automate these tasks, there must be a clear understanding of how easily these documents may be accessed now and in the future.
The most ominous example of the importance of compliance involves the potential for an employer to be audited by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is the branch of government charged with enforcing compliance of I-9 documentation and ensuring that illegal aliens are not employed by US organizations. This branch of the Department of Homeland Security may demand the I-9 documents of an organization, at virtually anytime, by serving a Notice of Inspection. When this happens, an organization has 3 business days to produce all of the requested I-9 forms, along with supporting documentation for the inspection (payroll records, list of current active employees, etc.). If your electronic documents are simply stored in a mass list of image files or .pdf files, providing the correct sets of documents can be very difficult.
A more common example is an employee requesting a copy of his/her W-4 form to help consider possible withholding changes. Again, if these electronic files aren’t able to be organized in a way that makes sense to you and your staff, this may be very difficult and time-consuming. Be sure to consider these other items as you look to make your hiring practices paperless. A little additional time upfront should help avoid potential issues down the road.
ExactHire provides employee onboarding software that offers electronic I-9 and W-4 forms that simplify the employee onboarding process while ensuring that you are in compliance. To learn more, please contact a member of our team today!