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March 10, 2009

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Hi HRGuy!

I am starting a new job and my company wants a copy of my W-2 for 2000. Is this legal for them to obtain my personal earnings? I feel this is invading my privacy to know how much I earned. I told them how much I W-2'd during the interview and they already hired me based on my experiences and how I sold myself during the interview process. Now they want a copy of my W-2 the first day I start. Why is it that companies want W-2's and is it legal for them to obtain this kind of information.

Please help me out HR guy!

BMA

Dear BMA:

As most employees know, companies generally will ask a candidate about salary history sometime during the interview process. The purpose of these questions is to gauge whether the candidate is right for the position offered. If the potential employee has made $50,000 in the past, a job opening that only offers a maximum of $30,000 may not be the best fit. It is usually best for the company to learn this information early on to avoid wasting precious time. Of course, knowing a candidate's salary history doesn't hurt in the negotiating process, especially when the candidate doesn't know the upper limit the employer is willing to offer.

But there is a difference between knowing a salary history and having access to a W-2 form, which contains a detailed record of your yearly earnings for tax purposes. It seems odd that an employer would ask for an old W-2 after hiring someone.~

Perhaps there is some confusion as to the company's intentions. Usually, the employer asks new hires to fill out all of their paperwork on the first day of work, including the employee's new W-4 (withholding allowance calculator). Since it is possible to see what you claimed on your last W-4 by looking at your old W-2, the person who handles payroll might want to use the W-2 to help you fill out your new W-4. However, this is completely unnecessary, since the deductions you claim on your new W-4 are not dependant on anything from the past, including a previous job. In fact, you can fill out a new W-4 anytime you like, and you should do so when your life changes in a dramatic way (for example, you get a job that pays a lot more, get married, have a child).

The bottom line is that while there seems to be no good reason for an employer to ask for an old W-2, it is not illegal for an employer to require you to bring one in. It may be that the company wants to confirm the salary information you gave previously. While it is somewhat discourteous to ask for this after an offer has been made, you should be aware that if the information on your old W-2 doesn't match the salary you gave in the interview processes, the company might rescind its offer because of your lie. It always pays to tell the truth.

Good luck!

HR Guy

Do you have a question for the HR Guy? Write him at hrguy@vault.com.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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