I-9s: Rules of the Road

With tighter budgets and deadlines, it is critical for producers to find efficiency throughout the production process. However, as producers look for ways to reduce time spent on administrative tasks such as onboarding, sometimes corners are cut too close. This leaves the production company exposed, particularly when it comes to the I-9.

Recently there has been an increase in questions due to misinformation about the I-9 for production workers, including who is responsible for managing it and how often a new one is required. This summary is intended to help clarify the production community’s understanding of the I-9 and is not legal advice, so please consult your legal counsel or HR advisors for your specific situation.

What is the I-9?
It is a federal document administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. For anyone hired to work in the United States, it verifies the person’s identity and whether they are authorized to be employed.

Who is responsible for obtaining and verifying completed I-9s and identity documents?
The common law employer, which is the entity that makes hiring decisions, sets the time and place of work and provides direction on how to perform work. In our industry, this is typically the production company, ad agency or advertiser.

Are I-9s required by an Employer of Record (EOR) payroll provider?
While it is not the EOR’s responsibility to verify I-9 eligibility or store the documents, many EORs require submissions of I-9s with other payroll documents to help ensure compliance by their clients. The government accepts no excuses for missing, late, inaccurate or incomplete I-9s. Out of convenience and courtesy, many EORs include an I-9 form in the onboarding document packet provided to common law employers.


During an audit, the government will not accept misunderstanding of the requirements as a reason to forgive penalties. Therefore, it is critical that production company staff as well as freelance producers, production managers and coordinators clearly understand the requirements and exceptions for I-9 collection:

  • I-9s are required for all first-time hires, both freelance and staff.
  • Under the Continuing Employment exception, a new I-9 may not be required if the freelancer is hired on back-to-back projects for the same common law employer.
  • If a freelancer does not work continuously for a common law employer but is rehired within three years of the execution of the existing I-9, the existing I-9 may be used provided that Section 3 (Reverification and Rehires) is completed. A new I-9 is required for a rehire that is more than three years from the execution of the existing I-9.
  • Otherwise, an I-9 does not follow a freelancer from job to job and is required each time a freelancer is hired by a different common law employer even if the same EOR payroll provider is used by the different common law employers.


The government audits employers and closely examines whether I-9s were collected, properly completed, reviewed and stored compliantly. Fines may range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per I-9, depending on several factors.


Obtain a new I-9.


If you need additional insight to ensure that those you hire are properly onboarded, please reach out to [email protected].

Disclaimer: The information presented in this post is provided for informational purposes only and shall not be considered legal or tax advice. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor for specific legal or tax advice.

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