More than 2,300 companies underwent I-9 audits in 2011. That’s a huge number from a record-setting year, and 2012 will see even more I-9 audits. You can’t ensure you won’t end up in the audit group, but you can make sure you’re ready.

I often find myself scratching my head about how businesses fail to comply with very straightforward requirements regarding I-9 employee verification. Many of the same executives who are most concerned with cash flow and reining in costs are oblivious to being proactive about avoiding penalties and fines.

Proper I-9 maintenance is mandatory, and the bad news is that it’s under increasing scrutiny by the Federal Government. The good news is that compliance is easy and takes little time if administered properly at the time of hire.

It is more important than ever to comply with the requirement that each employee has a properly completed I-9 on file within three days of hire. As Immigration and Customs Enforcement Public Affairs Spokeswoman Gillian Christensen made clear, “inspections will touch on employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation, with an emphasis on businesses related to critical infrastructure and key resources.”

In her June 15, 2011, article for CNN Money, Laurie Segall points out the implications of the newfound dedication to enforcement: “The audit surge is an effort to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, an issue Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano began focusing on in April 2009.”

The risk is real. And it’s so easily avoidable.

Eliminate the chance of fine, arrest, and penalty by properly verifying employment eligibility. Have every new employee fill out I-9 documents right away, and e-verify social security numbers.

And, just in case: keep I-9s in a binder separate from employee files so that you can grant access without having auditors digging through your employee files.

If you have questions about I-9 compliance or any other compliance issue, we’re here to help.