This is one of onboarding’s biggest new obstacles

Onboarding is a challenge in normal times–but throw in a global pandemic and a hybrid workforce and you have a recipe for a challenging first few days on the job for new employees, as well as employers.

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During an HR Tech session on Wednesday at the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas, leaders from Equifax shared some of the new obstacles their clients are facing when it comes to bringing new workers on board during current conditions.

One of the major hurdles that has emerged recently is the completion of the new employee’s I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under Section 2 of the I-9 law, an employer must ask for proof the employee can legally work in the U.S. and view these documents within three days of the employee’s first day on the job; otherwise, they could face penalties and possible criminal charges.

But, to respond to the global pandemic in the spring of 2020, the U.S. government offered provisions that allowed new hires to use off-site verification centers to get their documentation approved. That has driven demand for solutions like Equifax’s 1-9 Anywhere, which allows remote I-9 completion through authorized I-9 representatives throughout the country.

Such remote completion services were important even before last year’s lockdowns, said Rhonda Mensah, vice president of HR at Accountable Healthcare Staffing.

Before COVID-19, onboarding new healthcare workers was done in person, she noted, but as the healthcare professional staffing organization expanded into states where it did not have a physical presence, it contracted with Equifax to perform the verifications.

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“It was important for us to come up with a technology that met the needs of our employees and make this a positive experience,” she said.

Equifax helped Accountable’s new hires set up their appointments to confirm their passports, driver’s license and and proof of citizenship. “When COVID came along,” Mensah noted, “it was an easy transition for us because we had those things in place; the entire onboarding process is done electronically.”

Mensah added, “You want to make it a positive experience but make sure we are fully compliant.”

See also: Maximizing tech for remote onboarding

At Northwestern Mutual, the life insurer based in Milwaukee, Wisc., the standard practice for onboarding its 2,000 new hires each year was to bring them to the headquarters to distribute their new work laptops and confirm their eligibility to work in the U.S. But as the pandemic took hold, the company had new hires drive to the parking lot of the Milwaukee office and hold up their ID to the window for it to be photographed, recalled Jason Feucht, assistant director of HR Services & Solutions for Northwestern Mutual.

“They popped their trunk, we dropped in their laptop and sent them back home,” he said, adding that leaders knew this was not going to be a long-term solution, especially in the colder months.

Jason Fry, assistant vice president, product strategy for onboarding solutions, Equifax Workforce Solutions, noted that, despite the many options that immigration officials allowed for transmitting proof of documentation–including Skype, FaceTime, fax, scan–employers still had to see the materials in person within three days.

“Even taking advantage of the virtual piece, you are on the hook for the real documents,” said Fry. “So [with I-9 Anywhere], employers can send employees to a completer who can verify the documents in person but not in the office of the employer.”

Northwestern Mutual leveraged Equifax’s completer network to perform over-the-counter verification. “We had new employees submit their documentation when it was convenient for them versus coming into the office. We tried to be as flexible as we could moving forward,” Feucht said.

It has been a reliable addition to Accountable’s onboarding process, added Mensah.

“When we make the offer, [new employees] can work [I-9 verification] around their schedule, and it makes it so much easier,” she said. “We don’t have resistance.”

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Phil Albinus
Phil Albinus
Phil Albinus is the former HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children.