Employers Ask Job Seekers for W-2s

In tight job market, employers have the upperhand, experts say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Amazon is one of the employers believed to be asking potential employees for W-2s to verify salary history during a tight jobs market. It's part of a trend that some work experts have seen spike since the economic downturn in 2010.

    In the ultra-competitive job market, more employers are requesting W-2 forms from prospective employees to verify their salary history.

    The practice may strike job-seekers as intrusive, but experts say it's legal.

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    Amazon, which recently announced it was opening an office in San Bernardino, appears to be among the companies making the requests for the federal wage and tax statements.

    A man identified as Kevin T. told the San Francisco Chronicle he was recently asked to submit last year’s W-2 as part of the last step in the hiring process for a job with Amazon.

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    The tech giant recently announced that it was building a 950,000-square foot facility in San Bernardino that’s expected to open in the fall.

    Kevin T. told the Chronicle that after he submitted the tax documents, the company “made an offer that was below the salary range they originally quoted."

    An email to the press office of Amazon was not returned.

    Joy Waltemath, a lawyer and managing editor at Wolters Kluwer Law and Business, which tracks employer trends, said that, anecdotally, she has been seeing this happen more and more since the economic downturn began in 2008.

    The practice has been going on longer in some fields -- such as the financial industry and commission sales -- in which it's difficult to reliably verify salary information, Waltemath added.

    She said in a employer market, companies are using W-2s to verify whether someone is telling the truth about their salary history.

    “Employers are looking for ways to weed out candidates,” she said.

    But there's a problem with the W-2 requests, she said: There are social security numbers on the forms, and many state laws say you can’t ask for that information prior to employment.

    She suggested that prospective employees block out social security numbers when asked for W-2s.

    Another downside is that some employers will only consider candidates who are currently employed.

    “Let’s say you don’t have a W-2 because you weren’t working … that’s another issue,” Waltemath said. “It’s not illegal, but it may expose some information that the prospective employee doesn’t want to provide.”

    So far only New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have laws prohibiting an employer from refusing to consider an unemployed applicant.

    Waltemath said she has only heard of the request of W-2s in the private sector, not in the public sector.

    The issue falls in line with another recent high profile change in employer requests -- that of asking for the usernames and passwords of potential candidates’ Facebook accounts.

    Maryland has become the first state to ban the practice, according to the Washington Post.

    “They really want to know everything they can about a potential applicant,” Waltemath said. “They just want to make sure they’re not going to be embarrassed by a bad hire.”

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