You Want My Social Security Number?

Is It Legal, Even Ethical, for Employers to Seek This Information?

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Readers increasingly ask questions that pertain to the privacy of their personal information both on online job applications and paper job applications filled out and retained by the potential employer. Controversy exists about when and how much information is appropriate for potential employers to require when they have made no commitment to the job searcher.

Increasingly, in this era of privacy invasion via hackers, new technology, and data theft, job searchers are wary about sharing personal information too widely.

Employers need to know the laws of their state to collect appropriate data from employees and job searchers.


Reader Question:

"I have applied for a job and the hiring organization wants my social security number on the application. Is this legal for them to ask for my social security number this early in the hiring process?"

Human Resources Response:

I am not an attorney, so keep that in mind. Asking for the social security number on an application is legal in most states, but it is an extremely bad practice, in my opinion. (Some states prohibit private employers from collecting this information for fear of identity theft.)

Depending upon the state in which you reside, laws are different regarding supplying this information, and I cannot keep up with all of them.

I would not provide this information on a job application. Keep in mind, though, that on many job applications, you are signing to provide permission to check references, do background checks, allow criminal record checks, and affirming that all of the information that you have provided on the application is the truth.

If you do not supply the social security number on the application, you will likely have to make another trip to the company to fill it in, if the employer wants to offer you a job. (I don't recommend emailing such sensitive information. Even the US Postal Service is not always the safest way to transmit information.)

With all of the new laws about guarding employee and applicant information security, no client with whom I work, asks for this information until the person is hired anymore. No one wants to be responsible for guarding this information for the year that it would be accessible in a file.

And, increasingly applicants are objecting to handing over their social security number automatically.

It might cost you the employment opportunity, but I would write "SSN available upon job offer" in that space. They will need the SSN if they do background checks, so you will need to provide it for the background checks if they make an offer. I would prefer to keep that number safe until hired, but it is not always possible.

Especially in online applications, you may need to provide your social security number, but I would avoid offering my social security number if possible. Why are employers asking for social security numbers from every applicant? Seems like such a bad idea.

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Please note: Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.