Can a prospective employer ask for a W-2 as proof of salary history?
When I interviewed this morning for a job at a large engineering company, the interviewer seemed skeptical that I’d made as much as I said I’d made on my most recent job. This afternoon, I got an email asking that I answer two new questions and also furnish my 2015 W-2.
I’ve never before been asked for a W-2. Is this even legal? I called the company’s HR and asked, “What’s the reason?” and this very nice woman said it was to “verify the salary and bonus information you provided.” Does that mean they think I’m a liar?
Employers can ask for an applicant’s prior year W-2. This may be part of the employer’s normal process or because the interviewing manager didn’t believe you. Some applicants inflate their salary history hoping to increase the offering salary. Employers often like to know an applicant’s salary history before they initiate negotiations.
Employers who request W-2s take a risk. First, they turn off applicants who consider the request overly intrusive. Some applicants see the request as a signal they’re not trusted or that they’ve interviewed with an overly structured, restrictive employer.
Second, W-2 forms may include information on dependent care benefits and Alaska’s discrimination laws protect parental status. A line item detailing sick pay could give away an applicant’s health history, another category protected under state and federal discrimination laws. For these and other reasons, some states such as Rhode Island prohibit employers from asking for an applicant’s W-2.
Employers who request W-2 information, particularly if it’s electronically furnished, need to protect the data received, as it includes the applicant’s Social Security number.
As an applicant, you have some options for dealing with a W-2 request.
You can provide the W-2. If the interviewer didn’t trust you and you inflated your salary, you’ll prove him right. If you worked for an employer who paid you less than you were worth, your past W-2 may limit your negotiating ability.
You can say you don’t feel comfortable providing such private information. If so, you potentially eliminate yourself as a candidate as the employer may consider you noncompliant and stubborn.
If you hesitate to provide your W-2 because you didn’t feel your last employer paid you what you felt you were worth, you can provide it along with an explanation that details why it wasn’t a true reflection of your value.
Finally, your hesitation may turn out to be a non-issue. Although some former employers decline to provide a prospective employer with a past employee’s salary history, most provide it, and thus your interviewing employer can get the information they seek through reference or background checking.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com