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Responding to Social Security Number Mismatches: Threading the Needle Between Discrimination and Employment-Eligibility Liability

JDSupra (03/08/2012) Doug Hass

Companies should establish policies that outline how to respond to Social Security Number mismatches, because the penalties for ignoring or overreacting to SSN mismatches are severe. The policies should address how the company will respond to worker requests to change a SSN or legal name in payroll or personnel records. The policies also should address how the company will respond to requests or notifications by courts or government agencies regarding SSN mismatches. Additionally, the policies should address the company’s views on disciplining or letting go of workers for obtaining work using fraudulent paperwork.

If a company learns of a SSN mismatch, it should examine the worker’s Social Security card and compare it with the information in payroll and personnel records. If the information doesn’t match, the company should correct its records and submit corrected W-2, W-4, or other forms to the U.S. Social Security Administration, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and other appropriate agencies. If the company’s records do match the information on the worker’s card, the company can use the SSA’s Social Security Number Verification Service to verify the SSN. If the SSA confirms that the worker’s number matches, the company should tell the worker that someone may be using his or her SSN.

Companies should never require a worker to “reverify” their employment eligibility or take any other adverse action against a worker because of a SSN mismatch. To do so could subject the company to substantial liability under the antidiscrimination components of the Immigration and Nationality Act.