Employers: What To Do When There Is a Social Security Number Discrepancy

Federal law requires employees to give employers a valid social security number for W-2 wage reporting purposes. The Social Security Administration verifies the name and social security numbers to ensure that they match. If they do not match, the Social Security Administration sends a so-called “no-match” letter to advise the employer of the discrepancy. Employers often have questions when they receive this letter, such as those posed below.

Q: Does a no-match mean that the employee is unlawfully in the U.S.?
A: No; there are a number of reasons why the social security number may not match the records provided by the employee. For example, a typographical error, an incomplete name or a name change may account for the discrepancy.

Q: How should an employer respond to a no-match letter from the Social Security Administration regarding a current employee?
A: If the employee is still working for the employer, the employer should do the following:
Look at the company records to see if the company already has a copy of the social security card. If so, the employer should check the records to make sure that there was not a typographical error in transmitting the information to the Social Security Administration.
The employer should ask the employee to check his/her social security card to make sure that both the employee’s name and the social security number were accurately reported. Also, the employer should ask to see the employee’s social security card and may also choose to photocopy the card, although this is not required.
If the employer and employee cannot resolve this discrepancy, the employer should ask the employee to contact the local social security office.

Q: What if the person with the incorrect social security number is no longer working for the employer? 
A: The employer should look at its own records to see if there was a typographical error. If that does not reveal a discrepancy, the employer should try to obtain the correct information by contacting the employee at his/her last known address as reported in the employee records.

Q: What should an employer do after having received corrected information from an employee?
A: The employer should send the corrected information to the Social Security Administration. The employer does not need to send documentation or proof to the Social Security Administration, but should maintain such proof in its own payroll records.

Q: Is a “no-match” social security number a basis for terminating an employee?
A: No; a mismatch of name and social security number is not a basis, by itself, for an employer to take adverse action against an employee (such as layoff, suspension, termination or discrimination).

Q: If an employee knowingly provided a false social security number, may the employer then take action?
A: It’s possible. If the employer has proof the employee purposely made a false statement on the Form I-9 or used fake documents, the employer may decide to terminate based on criminal violations IF the employer consistently follows a policy about fraudulent proof in a non-discriminatory manner. In all cases, the employer should consult with an attorney before taking an action to terminate employment.

A letter to an employer from the Social Security Administration stating that an employee’s name and social security number do not match does not necessarily imply that the employee is in the U.S. unlawfully. However, the employer should take action to review its own documentation and ask the employee to provide correct documentation.

11/23/2016

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Sherry Neal, a partner in the Cincinnati office of Hammond Law Group.

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.

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