Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ask HR

As an employer, do I need to verify my employees? Social Security numbers?

Many employers are confused at their responsibility of verifying someone's eligibility to work—and many link that with a valid Social Security card.

As it stands now, an employer's actual responsibility for verifying someone's eligibility is fairly limited. An employer must examine appropriate documents for the I-9 form, and if those documents appear to be legitimate there does not need to be any further investigation by the employer. In fact, the federal government does not expect employers to be experts on determining the legitimacy of these documents, but to just verify that the documents do not appear to be tampered with, and to the naked eye seem intact. Separate from the I-9 verification process, an employer may be required to verify the information on a Social Security number when filing a W-2.

The Internal Revenue Service expects you as an employer to verify that an employee's name matches the Social Security number on file before filing a W-2. As part of a company's new hire process, an employer should ask the new hire to show his or her Social Security card (after they are hired but before they are set up on payroll). Viewing the card assists the employer in obtaining accurate information of the Social Security number for payroll purposes only. The employee may show the card if it is available. An employer may, but is not required to, photocopy the Social Security card for personnel use only.

Any employee without a Social Security card should apply for one using Form SS-5. If an employee is eligible to work in the U.S. according to the completion of their I-9, but does not have a Social Security number, you may still employ them. In this case you should collect the following information: the worker's full name, address, date of birth, place of birth, father's full name, mother's full maiden name, gender and the date he or she applied for a card number. Instruct the employee to tell you the number and the exact name printed on the card, when it is received.

The Social Security Administration currently has a free Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) available that allows employers to match their record of employee names and SSNs with Social Security records.This service is available to all employers. You can register by going to You can directly verify up to 10 names/SSNs online with immediate results, or you can upload a file with up to 250,000 names/SSNs for overnight results. You will receive a response for all names/SSNs both verified and not verified.

Employers should be aware of constantly changing legislation regarding verification and reporting not only to the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service but to other agencies as well. Though currently under a temporary restraining order, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) are beginning to work together to share information provided in the annual employer no-match letter that could expose employers to potential liability under the immigration law. The SSA is not currently changing its procedures for issuing its employer no-match letters or its guidance on how to correct Social Security records, but the no-match letters will be accompanied by a letter from the DHS with guidelines on employers' obligations under U.S. immigration laws.

Until other legislation is passed an employer is only responsible for verifying SSNs of current or former employees, and only for wage reporting (Form W-2) purposes. It is illegal to use the service to verify SSNs of potential new hires or contractors or in the preparation of tax returns. Company policy concerning the use of SSNVS must be applied consistently to all employees. If used for newly hired workers, you must verify information on all newly hired workers. If used to verify information on other employees in your database, you must verify the information for all employees in your entire database. Do not use SSNVS to take punitive action against an employee whose name and SSN do not match the SSA's records. A mismatch does not imply that the employer or the employee intentionally provided incorrect information. A mismatch does not make any statement about an employee's immigration status and is not a basis, in and of itself, for taking any adverse action against an employee. Doing so could subject you to anti-discrimination or labor law sanctions.

For more complete information visit the Web site

This column contains human resource suggestions by a human resource specialist. This information is not intended as professional or legal advice of any kind.

Please e-mail us at All questions are confidential and names/identities are not published with the column.

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