CMHC Compliance Officers Should Review Their Compliance Plans to Ensure that “I-9s” are Being Properly Handled and Completed by Staff. The Failure to do so Can Result in Civil and / or Criminal Penalties.

November 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Compliance, Featured, Medicare Audits

(November 28, 2010): In 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Despite this change, certain functions, such as responsibility for enforcing citizenship discrimination actions remained with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (DOJ-OSC).  As one large not-for–profit hospital group recently found, DOJ-OSC takes this responsibility quite seriously and is aggressively investigating allegations of “citizenship status discrimination” committed by employers (including health care providers). Most recently, DOJ-OSC has pursued violations allegedly occurring when prospective applicants were asked to show that they are eligible to work in the United States.

I.  Background

With the passage and implementation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, employers (including health care providers) have been required to verify that applicants for jobs show that they are authorized to work in the United States.  For over 25 years, employers have been requiring that prospective applicants complete Section 1 of an “I-9 Form” (officially titled “Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification”).  Section 1 of the form provides various options for an applicant to show that they are eligible to work in the United States.  Employers are then required to complete Section 2 of the form within three days of the applicant starting to work.  As the government’s Employer Handbook covering the completion of the Form I-9 reflects:

“To comply with the law, you must verify the identity and employment authorization of each person you hire, complete and retain a Form I-9 for each em­ployee, and refrain from discriminating against individu­als on the basis of national origin or citizenship.”

For most prospective applicants and employers, this process has been relatively painless.  While the failure of a company to complete I-9s for its employees could subject the employer to civil and / or criminal penalties, the relative ease of completion of this form has typically been included in the pre-employment paperwork given to an applicant. 

In a recent case pursued by DOJ-OSC, the government alleged that a health care provider required that “non-U.S. citizen and naturalized U.S. citizen new hires . . . present more work authorization documents than required by Federal law, but permitted native born U.S. citizens to provide documents of their own choosing.”  Based on the fact that non-U.S. citizens and naturalized citizens were treated differently, the government investigated a complaint filed by a “charging party” against this health care provider. Ultimately, the government and the health care provider reached a settlement to the discriminatory allegations presented. 

The health care provider was required to pay $257,000 in civil penalties plus an additional $1,000 which was given to the charging party to make up for back pay that was owed due to the delay in hiring the individual.  This delay was allegedly caused by the provider’s requirement that this non-U.S. citizen (or naturalized U.S. citizen) was required to provide more extensive paperwork to prove his / her authorization to work in the United States than was required from U.S. born citizens. 

II. Compliance Plan Considerations:

Importantly, I-9 compliance considerations are not limited to only non-discrimination practices.  Both Compliance Officers and Human Resources staff should review the government’s “Handbook for Employers’ and ensure that your facility is complying with each facet of the law in this regard.  As the Handbook states, each provider must:

“Ensure that the employee fully completes Section 1 of Form I-9 at the time of hire — when the employee be­gins work. Review the employee’s document(s) and fully complete Section 2 of Form I-9 within 3 business days of the first day of work.

If you hire a person for less than 3 business days, Sections 1 and 2 of Form I-9 must be fully completed when the employee begins work.”

Importantly, I-9s do not have to be completed for some individuals.  As the government’s Handbook further states:

“You DO NOT need to complete a Form I-9 for persons who are:

1. Hired before November 7, 1986, who are continu­ing in their employment and have a reasonable expectation of employment at all times;

2. Employed for casual domestic work in a private home on a sporadic, irregular, or intermittent basis;

3. Independent contractors; or

4. Providing labor to you who are employed by a con­tractor providing contract services (e.g., employee leasing or temporary agencies).

5. Not physically working on U.S. soil.”

III. Lessons Learned:

While the Compliance Plan covering your Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) likely already covers a wide variety of employment-related issues, Compliance Officers should check to ensure that I-9 requirements are made a part of your overall Compliance Program if these mandates are not already covered.

As this case reflects, health care Compliance Officers should periodically conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of a provider’s operations and business relationships.  While traditional compliance reviews have focused on traditional health care statutory and regulatory responsibilities, Compliance Officers cannot ignore other risk areas (such as I-9 related responsibilities).  A good place to start would be to meet with both clinical and non-clinical supervisory and managerial employees to discuss regulated aspects of their work. 

Liles Parker attorneys have extensive experience working with health care providers, including CMHCs,  to develop and implement effective Compliance Plans and Programs.  Should you have questions, call us for a complementary consultation.  We may be reached at 1-800-475-1906.

 

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