For the first time in seven years, employers are receiving Social Security number (SSN) no-match letters from the Social Security Administration when it has discovered that the W-2 records submitted by the employer don’t match the administration’s records on employee names and SSNs. This is a warning to employers to carefully check the employee’s information. The problem could be as innocent as a typo or as serious as a stolen identity.
The Social Security Administration has given employers an overview of frequently asked questions and steps to take upon receiving a mismatch letter, also called an “employer correction request notice.”
Tread Carefully If You Get a Letter
The letters don’t include the names and Social Security numbers of employees with mismatched SSNs, as they had in the past. Employers must register online with the Social Security Administration’s Business Services Online (BSO) to find out whose SSNs are mismatched.
If an employer learns of SSN mismatches and does nothing, then U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may consider the employer to have “constructive knowledge”—a fact an entity should have known—that it has an unauthorized worker. But if employers take adverse action against an employee based solely on no-match letters, they may be sued for discriminating against the worker based on citizenship.
What to Do After Receiving a No-Match Letter
After receiving a no-match letter, employers should:
- Check their records for a clerical error.
- Notify the employee of the mismatch.
- Give the employee a reasonable period of time to resolve the mismatch with the Social Security Administration.
A “reasonable period” could be between 30 to 90 days, but some attorneys called the time period a “gray area.”
If the employee cannot resolve the mismatch with the Social Security Administration, the employer often will fire the worker.
Employers should not panic when they receive mismatch letters. Tell the employee about the mismatch. If the employee doesn’t respond, tell the Social Security Administration.
An employer should not stick no-match letters in a file folder and do nothing. Employees who need to resolve SSN mismatches may need time off work to resolve the issue in person. However, an unauthorized employee is not likely to go the Social Security Administration but instead might ask the employer for extension after extension to resolve the matter, hoping the company will forget about the SSN mismatch.
Agencies share information. The Social Security Administration may alert the Department of Homeland Security to which employers have received no-match letters and ICE subsequently may conduct an audit.
Companies have the option of also using the administration’s Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS), available through BSO. The service allows employers to verify SSNs before filing W-2 submissions. It cannot be used to prescreen candidates, and once employers have registered for SSNVS, they must use it across the entire organization, which can be an administrative burden. For those reasons, some employers are choosing not to sign up for SSNVS.
Cause of Mismatch Letters
The cause of mismatch letters may be falsification, identity theft or a completely fabricated SSN.
But the mismatch could be due to a marriage or divorce if the married or divorced employee did not notify the Social Security Administration of the name change. Or it could be the result of a digit that the employer transposed.
One way to avoid most SSN mismatches is to use E-Verify. E-Verify checks the names, dates of birth and SSNs of new hires against the Social Security Administration’s database.
E-Verify can’t catch cases of identity theft, when someone steals someone else’s name, date of birth and SSN to obtain unemployment and disability benefits. But E-Verify should prevent most SSN mismatches with the Social Security Administration.
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