Social Security is a public federal program that gives financial support to individuals who are retired, disabled, or surviving family members. Not everyone will qualify for these benefits, but a lot of working Americans will be able to receive them at some point.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the federal agency that runs this program. Elderly retirees are generally defined as being age 62 and over, but the retirement age when you can start claiming the full benefit amount will depend on your birth year.

How social security works is taxes get taken out of American workers’ paychecks to fund the program. After retirement or another time when qualified, you can take advantage of these benefits and collect payment. Because this is how the program works, having the correct social security number on employment documents is crucial.

To provide notification of errors, the SSA would send what are called “no-match” letters to employers. This happens when one of their employee’s name and social security number listed on the employee’s W-2 tax form did not reflect the information that the SSA had in their records for that individual. Another name used for these letters is Employer Correction Request Notices (EDCOR).

No-match letters were discontinued and started back up a few times over the years, but now the SSA has said they will no longer mail these notifications to employers. The new focus will be on electronic correction of errors. This is a positive move that will streamline the correction process, as a lot of these no-match letters result from simple clerical errors.

How Did the Process Work With No-Match Letters in the Past?

There are several innocent reasons why an employee’s name and social security number may not match the SSA’s records. Some common reasons include name misspelling, a digit of the social security number written down incorrectly or reversed, hyphenated names, name changes due to marriage or other life changing events, compound names, and other administrative errors. Some more serious reasons for this information not to match could be due to identity theft resulting from fraud, illegal working, or another criminal reason.

In the past, when this error became known to the SSA they would send a hard copy no-match letter directly to the employer. After receipt of the no-match letter, the employer needed to work quickly to determine the reason the records did not match. The first step would be double checking records to see if it was a simple mistake, like a number reversal. Employers also need to notify employees so they can contact the SSA to take care of the issue. Periodic check-ins with the employee to make sure the issue is resolved in a reasonable time frame is necessary.

Other steps include asking employees to verify their name and social security number, contacting past employees to get correct information, documenting resolution attempts in writing, and submitting correct information to the SSA when the no-match letter was a result of a simple mistake like a clerical error. Without electronic assistance, this process has been held up in the past.

What Protections Do Employees Have?

An important thing to note is that employers cannot assume wrongdoing and construe receipt of a no-match letter against the employee. The fear is that an employer would assume fraud or that the employee is in the country illegally and retaliate through discipline, suspension, firing, or other adverse action. Put simply, in no time throughout history has a no-match letter been meant to infer an individual’s immigration status. The reason is simply to alert the employer of the non-matching information so proper measures can be taken to remedy the error.

If an employer takes adverse action against an employee after receiving a no-match letter, then they may face liability under the anti-discrimination sections of Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), other federal laws, and certain state laws. The same goes for firing, disciplining, or taking another type of adverse action if an employee complains about the way their employer addressed the situation with the no-match letter.

One example is an employee complaining that the employer waited too long to notify them that they received the SSA’s letter, which resulted in undue delay. Discrimination and retaliation in these situations will be considered unlawful and employers can face serious legal consequences.

What Expected Changes Will There Be Going Forward?

Since the SSA expressed intent in April 2021 not to send out physical no-match letters anymore, employers need to be ready for the agency to notify them electronically. Employers should now be provided with directions to fix errors through the SSA’s Business Services Online Portal instead of receiving a physical notification letter. While there is no formal process in place to take over the issuance of no-match notification letters, the SSA has said that the focus will be on making the process easier for employers by relying on their portal to address these instances of non-matching information.

The SSA is planning to update their software so it can instantly notify employers when a wage document has mismatching information about an employee’s social security number. The agency is also focused on providing proper education to employers on how to quickly remedy this issue through their online system and about the importance of accuracy in SSA records. Without SSA records matching employee wage documents like W-2 tax forms, that person may miss out on a chunk of social security benefits in the future.

Employers should still follow the same process outlined above when they receive notice that there is an error in their records. However, with everything being electronic and more easily accessible the remedial process should be simpler in the case of clerical errors. A major thing that would hold this up is an uncooperative employee, so this is why periodic check-ins are necessary. However, in some cases the employer may be able to make changes themselves through the SSA’s Business Services Online Portal – like when it was the employer who made the typo instead of the employee.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

Employers may want to consider hiring a government attorney to assist with the process of remedying an outstanding no-match letter issue, especially when employees have been uncooperative or there are any other SSA delays.

Going forward as these physical letters stop and everything turns electronic, employers should be better equipped to handle this process. However, an experienced attorney will still be helpful if any unanticipated roadblocks emerge. An attorney can help with quick resolutions and communicate with the SSA about issues that arise during the remediation process.

In cases where employees feel they have been retaliated or discriminated against because of a no-match letter or the electronic equivalent going forward, hiring an employment attorney would be a good course of action. An attorney can review the situations and advise the employee on whether they have a case for discrimination or retaliation under federal or state law. An attorney can also attempt settlement with the employer and represent the employee in any court hearings during the tenure of the case.

When immigration is involved, find someone who specializes in that field to guarantee the best representation and knowledge of intricate issues that can result. A local immigragtion attorney can be of great help in these situations.