In our webinar today, Angelica Gamble-Wong, SVP of HR for Rubio’s Restaurants, told the story of the recent ICE I-9 audit Rubio’s went through. Her talk was very informative. (You can watch the recording to hear the full story in Angelica’s own words). Here I will summarize some of the highlights for you.
Let me first say that supporting our customers through ICE I-9 audits is a very high priority for us at Tracker. We are extremely proud of the excellent outcomes we’ve helped Rubio’s and other customers achieve. The results of an ICE I-9 audit are the true measure of how well an electronic I-9 system is serving your business.
Now on to the Rubio’s story, starting with some history of the steps they took before ICE arrived.
The paper I-9 process: “A hole we couldn’t get out of”
When Angelica joined Rubio’s, 350 managers in 200 locations processed 4,000 paper I-9s each year for new hires.
Angelica outlined the problems they had with paper I-9s:
- New manager I-9 training did not “stick” (too much to cover, too much to retain)
- Constant questions for HR, lots of errors
- Needed HR to review each I-9, kick many back. Constant flow of I-9s back and forth
- High labor cost, high level of frustration
- Despite high effort, compliance levels were still low
- Compliance was consistent w/ reported average for paper I-9s: >75% had errors
As Angelica described it, trying to achieve high compliance using paper I-9s was like being in “a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
“Something had to be done”
Rubio’s I-9 costs were way too high, and their risks were way too high. With paper I-9s, the only way to get their compliance levels up would have been to throw more people at the problem. According to Angelica, they would have had to hire multiple more people. With I-9 costs already too high, this was not feasible. So she set out to buy an electronic I-9 system for Rubio’s.
Rubio’s requirements for an electronic I-9 system
- Managers easily get it right (“guided in the moment,” no questions, no confusion)
- Training of new managers is minimal (little to cover, little to retain. A highly intuitive system should not require much training)
- All field offices could be supported by a part-time corporate HR person
- It could remediate their existing paper I-9s
- It could integrate with their other systems (single sign on, data sharing)
“Tracker was the only system that met all our requirements”
In summary, Rubio’s was looking for a system that would give them very low labor levels and very high compliance levels. After evaluating multiple systems, Rubio’s chose Tracker as it was the only system that met all of their requirements. They now have 1/2 of an HR person fully supporting all their stores, with perfect I-9 compliance (more on their compliance levels in a minute…).
After they began using the Tracker system for new hire I-9 processing, Rubio’s also converted all their existing paper records into the Tracker I-9 system, and remediated the errors that the system identified in those records.
Then two ICE officers paid Rubio’s a visit
Not too long after Rubio’s had successfully remediated all of their existing paper records, two ICE officers visited one of the Rubio’s stores. The officers asked for the store manager, and handed the manager a Notice of Inspection. Rubio’s had 3 days to prepare a package for ICE that included the I-9 records for all active employees at the store as well as the I-9s for all terminated employees whose records were still within the retention timeframe.
Three days later the ICE officers came back to pick up the records package from Rubio’s.
2 months later, ICE gave Rubio’s their audit results
Two months later ICE contacted Rubio’s to say they had completed their audit of Rubio’s records. Their audit results: ICE found 0 errors, and assessed 0 fines. In addition, since it was apparent that Rubio’s takes hiring compliance very seriously, ICE said they would not expand the audit to other locations, but would contain the audit to the one store.
“What we did right”
… to prepare the records
Rubio’s had successfully prepared their I-9 records and operations before the ICE audit. Angelica attributes their perfect audit results to a few key activities:
- Bought the right electronic I-9 system, ensuring all new I-9s are compliant
- Converted old paper I-9s into system, remediated them
- Added a note to any remediated records that could not be fully repaired
- Started processing all new hires through E-Verify (which shows they do everything possible to ensure compliance, and also provides consistency across locations)
… to prepare the organization
There are also a number of steps Rubio’s took to prepare the organization for an ICE audit, which contributed to the smooth audit process:
- Updated their I-9 policy to outline what to do if an NOI is received
- Trained everyone in advance how to respond
Policy for stores:
- Get the store manager immediately
- Let ICE know Rubio’s takes compliance seriously, has clean I-9 records
- Contact corporate HR immediately
- Never sign to waive the 3 days
Policy for HR:
- Call meeting immediately with Tracker Audit Support Team, counsel
- Ensure counsel serves as the single point of contact w/ICE
- Coordinate other actions immediately. Define who/what/when for pulling other needed records (payroll etc)
- Alert senior management
Angelica summed up the business results Rubio’s achieved by successfully creating a low-touch, high-compliance I-9 process:
- Removed considerable business risk
- Greatly reduced labor costs
- Built trust with ICE
- Empowered HR
- Created a sense of partnership between HR and operations
- Gave store managers more time to focus on creating a great customer experience
- Gave the company a competitive advantage
- Prepared Rubio’s to expand further
Our advice for all businesses, and especially those with multiple offices and significant hiring, is to follow the same steps that Rubio’s took. Then, when you get that audit notice from ICE, you’ll be able to anticipate a happy outcome.
Here are some additional resources that might help you along this path:
- Want to evaluate electronic I-9 solutions but don’t know the right questions to ask? Here is a great list of questions to help you uncover any “gotchas” before you buy: I-9 Eval Guide: Questions You’ll be Glad you Asked
- Need to update your I-9 compliance policy? This sample policy will give you a starting point: Sample I-9 Compliance Policy
- Want to learn more about the ICE audit process? You might find this post helpful: You just got an ICE I-9 audit notice: NOW WHAT??
- If you need additional resources, try visiting our I-9 & E-Verify Resources page.