By Sean G. Hanagan, Jackson Lewis P.C., a Council of Industry Associate Member
Social Security Administration (SSA) has begun notifying employers that the information reported on an individual employee’s W-2 form does not match the SSA’s records with “Request for Employer Information” letters, known as “No-Match” letters.
SSA started sending these controversial informational requests in 1993, but the practice has waxed and waned in part due to litigation. In 2011, SSA resumed the practice of notifying employers of social security number mismatches. But in 2012, the Obama Administration decided to simply stop the practice.
Now, the letters are back! In July 2018, probably in response to President Donald Trump’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, SSA re-started the practice by sending “informational notifications” to employers and third party providers telling them of mismatches on their 2017 Forms W-2 and explaining where to find helpful resources. The plan was to send 225,000 of these notices every two weeks. Starting in Spring 2019, notices will be sent regarding 2018 Forms W-2s, but these letters, unlike the “informational” letters, will tell employers that corrections are necessary.
A mismatch does not necessarily mean that there is any wrongdoing. It can be caused by an administrative error: numbers can be reversed, names might be misspelled or changed, for instance, due to marriage. But once a letter is received, in determining how to respond, employers find themselves caught between agencies. SSA wants to maintain accurate records of earnings. ICE wants to ensure compliance with employment verification laws. And the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of the Department of Justice (IER) wants to ensure that employers are not discriminating on the basis of citizenship, nationality or by pursuing unfair documentary practices in violation of the INA.
What is an employer to do?
- Don’t take any adverse action against an employee based on a No-Match letter alone.
- Compare the SSA information with the individual’s employment records.
- If the employer’s records match, ask the employee to check the name and number on his or her Social Security card.
- If there is a mistake on the card or the card needs to be changed or corrected, ask the employee to reach out to SSA to resolve the issue.
If the issue is not easily resolved, the employer should contact legal counsel. There are no “safe harbors.” Each case is different and must be analyzed individually to avoid missteps and penalties from either SSA, ICE, or IER.