Return of the Social Security Administration’s “No Match Letters”

Human Resources professionals who have been around a decade may remember the last batch of so-called “no match letters” that the Social Security Administration sent to employers to notify them that the Social Security Numbers they provided for employee withholdings did not match SSA records for those employees. The letters then directed employers to inquire with the named employees and report back to SSA with the correct information. In some cases, it simply was a name change through marriage, divorce, or other life event. In other cases, asking the employee to provide the correct SSN resulted in the employee not returning to work. It’s certainly no secret that there is an underground market to peddle fraudulent or stolen identity documents and data, and that may explain why some employees disappeared.

Under previous administrations, the no match letter program was SSA’s good faith attempt to match Social Security withholdings to the proper worker. While there was potential liability for employing unauthorized workers and mistreating authorized workers, SSA’s messaging was clear:  SSA was not seeking to report employers to other governmental agencies for investigations or enforcement actions; rather, it was sitting on a pile of money and didn’t know what to do with it.

Under the Trump administration, it’s anyone’s guess as to the reason for this or where it’s going. A May 16, 2019 New York Times article suggests the resumption of the no match letter program could be in response to Trump’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order. Another explanation could be that this simply is the latest effort by the administration to scare and intimidate employers and employees alike. As to where it’s going, I certainly would not put it past Trump’s minions, at his direction, to encourage the SSA to share information with the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.

Although most employers need not concern themselves with the resumption of the no match letter program, it still would be a good idea to take stock of your I-9 policies and practices and make sure employees responsible for hiring are current in their knowledge and following protocol. And of course, if you receive a no match letter, review it carefully, contact legal counsel if you have questions, and take appropriate action. The fine line to walk is to make sure you verify the employee’s information without running afoul of the I-9 anti-discrimination rules.

In general, you need to inform the employee of the no match letter and request updated or corrected information relating to his or her name, SSN and other identifying information that may have been provided during the hiring process. You then need to give the employee a reasonable period of time to provide the information and any new documents. You may not put an employee on leave or terminate an employee solely based upon the no match letter. In most cases, a simple typo or name change resolves the issue. For others, it may take some more information and review with counsel to determine the best way forward.