New Hires and the Social Security Card


How many times have you applied for work and been asked to produce your Social Security card upon hire? Asking new hires to produce their Social Security cards is common practice in this country. The question is whether or not the practice is allowed by law. The short answer is ‘yes’, but only under certain conditions. This post will explain the details of new hires and their Social Security card.

For purposes of clarification, a Social Security card is an official document that shows a person’s name and Social Security number. It is proof that the person in question has been issued a number. Social Security cards are printed and distributed directly by the Social Security Administration and no one else.

Social Security Cards for Payroll Purposes

We will give employers the benefit of the doubt by assuming that most cases of asking new hires to produce Social Security cards relate to payroll needs. Asking a new hire to see his or her card is completely legal in this context. In fact, the IRS recommends it. IRS Publication 15 (circular E) of the Employer’s Tax Guide specifically states the following:

“You should ask your employee to show you his or her social security card. The employee may show the card if it is available.”

Note the phrase “may show the card if it is available.” This clearly suggests that physically seeing a new hire’s Social Security card is not mandatory. Employers can legally ask for it, but they do not have to physically see it. New hires are not required to produce it either.

So what’s the purpose? The IRS doesn’t really explain. It’s probably a case of maintaining accurate records. If you ask for and physically see a new hire’s Social Security card, you are guaranteed to have accurate information to enter into your payroll system.

Social Security Cards for Identification Purposes

The Social Security card question gets tricky when you start talking about identification. Under federal law, employers are required to ask for identification that proves new hires are eligible to work in the United States. The federal I-9 form is used in conjunction with this practice.

In terms of the Social Security card, employers are barred from asking for it. In fact, they cannot ask for any specific kind of identification whatsoever. The law stipulates that they are to present new hires with two lists of ID options – List A and List B. New hires are then required to prove their identities by producing documents of their choosing from either list.

List A includes things like:

  • S. passport or passport card
  • Permanent resident card
  • Alien registration receipt card
  • Foreign passport with the correct stamp.

List B includes things like:

  • State-issued driver’s license
  • State-issued ID card
  • Voter registration card
  • Military ID card or draft record.

Both lists contain more items than those discussed here. The main thing to notice is that List A is primarily for non-citizens who need to prove they are legally eligible to work in the U.S. List B is for U.S. citizens who simply need to prove their citizenship. All U.S. citizens are, by default, legally allowed to work here.

To wrap all this up, Dallas-based BenefitMall explains that there are no valid reasons to ask for a Social Security card other than to enter accurate payroll information. If a Social Security card is presented as ID by a U.S. citizen, that’s fine. But employers cannot force new hires to produce their Social Security cards as proof of citizenship or work eligibility.