Over the past few years, we’ve kept up a conversation about HR compliance in the horticulture industry. Even though we’ve been involved with horticulture only for the past 10 years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in laws ranging from health care to immigration that would never have affected the horticulture industry in the past.
An example of this was published online by Greenhouse Grower magazine earlier this month: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is seeking comments on proposed changes to the digital version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. In other words, it’s the form that verifies the identity and employment eligibility for workers in the United States.
There’s no secret that there are many workers from other countries who work in the U.S. horticulture industry. As we’ve mentioned in before, the biggest reason is because the United States has moved beyond its agrarian roots, leaving a knowledge gap in the greenhouse and on the farm. Also, as I wrote about two weeks ago, we’ve been telling our youth for decades that they must go to college and pursue a white-collar job instead of leaving open the option of working in a skilled trade. I would definitely put horticulture in the skilled trade category.
Now the interesting thing is that the USCIS isn’t looking to make major changes to the I-9 form. On the contrary, the organization is looking to improve the language to prevent clerical errors and improve the user functionality, mainly on the digital form.
In the Greenhouse Grower article, Davi Bowen, the government relations and grassroots representative from AmericanHort, said the effect on the industry would largely depend on how many growers fill out the forms digitally.
“A number of greenhouse operators have been targeted in recent years by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for errors in completing the I-9 form, so having clearer directions would be helpful,” Bowen said.
The article also points to a blog post from Lexology that spells out the changes. The highlights include the form’s ability to:
- Check certain fields to ensure information is entered correctly;
- Provide instructions on the screen that users can access to complete each field;
- Provide a dedicated area to enter additional information that employers are currently required to notate in the margins of the form;
- Generate a quick-response matrix barcode (QR code) once the form is printed and can be used to streamline audit processes; and
- Streamline the certification in Section 1 for certain foreign nationals
Sage HRMS helps with I-9 compliance
Frankly, I was a little concerned when I first saw this article because we’ve been telling anyone who would listen that Sage HRMS can help growers with their I-9 compliance. Considering people who were using a computer to fill out this form were having the biggest issue, this made me wonder if we were part of the problem.
Luckily, I was able to quickly track down our go-to Sage HRMS expert, Marc Fowler, to learn more. (Ok, you got me: It’s not too difficult to track him down. He’s the brother of our president, Bobby Fowler.) Marc quickly sent me the link to Delphia Consulting’s HR Actions I-9 endorsed solution for Sage HRMS.
This website cleared up several of my concerns: HR Actions I-9 provides paperless input and workflow for I-9 forms, along with the other benefits such as employee status tracking. It can also reverify and/or update previously submitted forms. However, that still didn’t make the picture completely clear for me.
So I asked Marc if this meant if the proposed changes to the I-9 form go through, would Sage HRMS users with HR Actions I-9 not see any difference because the program already checks to see if the forms are filled out correctly. He said yes. With its constant updates, Sage HRMS with HR Actions I-9 will always have the latest updates to government forms and as long as the information in the system is correct, completed forms will be compliant.
Comment period for I-9
We know that not everyone in the horticulture industry will end up using Sage HRMS. (That’s not to say we wouldn’t love for that to happen, but I digress.) But we also know as compliance becomes a greater issue in the industry, growers will have to stay on top of changes such as these — even ones that are meant to help make the paperwork less convoluted.
The 60-day period for comment on the proposed changes ends on January 25. You can visit the Regulations.gov website to review all of the proposed changes and submit a comment. And I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: If you have an opinion and have a chance to give it, let someone know. This is a case where the government is trying to do the right thing to make a form easier, and if you’ve had trouble with it or think the new form will cause more trouble, let them know.
One more quick note: We’re in the middle of the massive winter storm. We hope everyone on the Eastern Seaboard stays safe and warm over the weekend.