Our team of experts fields real-life, everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today’s issue: Applicants’ tax returns and W-2s.

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot in the news about certain companies asking for applicants’ W-2s or tax returns. Is that legal?

A: Yes – for the most part, says Anthony Zaller (azaller@vtzlaw.com) on California Employment Law Report.

Some firms ask for candidates’ W-2s or tax returns to verify applicants’ past salary. Though the practice isn’t universal, it is common in certain industries — like financial services — and for certain positions, like sales jobs.

The practice can also be useful in the rare instance that an applicants’ former company has gone out of business and salary and employment info can’t be verified.

There’s nothing that legally prevents employers from asking for information about candidates’ tax returns or W-2s. But there may be info included on those forms that you don’t want to see because of problems that could arise later.

That includes Social Security numbers and info like dependent care credits, nontaxable sick pay and adoption benefits that suggest a candidate is in a protected class.

Best bet: If you’re going to ask candidates for W-2s or tax returns, request that they remove that kind of sensitive info before giving you copies.


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