Dealing With Social Security Number Mismatch

Farm Field Employees Often Get Notices of Social Security Mismatch 

By Anthony P. Raimondo

Much has been made in the media of late regarding the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) push to address wages reported under names and Social Security Numbers that do not match the numbers in the SSA’s database.

These notices used to be quite common but were suspended by the Obama administration in 2012. In the last few years, these notices have begun to go out, and a recent increase in the notices has caught the attention of media and politicians. Employers must understand their legal obligations when they receive such a notice, and media commentators and politicians are poor sources.

Anthony Raimondo
Anthony Raimondo

What is new is that the notices no longer provide a list of employees with mismatches. Instead, employers must log on to a web site to get the names of the mismatched employees. Employers should follow the instructions carefully. Employers are not required to sign up for the Social Security Verification system in order to get the information, and should only enroll in that program if they wish to verify all employee Social Security Numbers.

The first thing to understand is that a mismatch notice is not an immigration problem. The SSA does not enforce immigration law, and is prohibited from sharing mismatch information with ICE. There are many reasons a mismatch may occur, and an immigration issue is only one of them. Never presume that an employee is undocumented, and never fire a worker simply because you receive a mismatch notice. Primarily, the notice is a payroll tax issue, as IRS regulations require employers to use reasonable diligence to obtain the correct wage reporting information from employees.

The initial step for an employer who receives a mismatch notice is to check whether there was a clerical or other error on the part of the employer that triggered the mismatch. If so, the error should be corrected, with the proper forms filed with the IRS. If there is no error, the employer should next check the employee’s I-9.

If the employee used the questionable Social Security card as a List C document to show employment authorization, then the employer must reverify the employee’s authorization to work in the United States in Section 3 of the I-9. The employee should be given 3 business days to present another List C document (such as a certified birth certificate) or a List A document (such as a US Passport or Permanent Resident Alien card).   If the employee did not present a Social Security card to demonstrate his or her authorization to work, then there is no immigration issue, only a payroll tax issue.

In order to resolve the payroll tax issue, the employer must notify the employee in writing that the notice was received. The employee should be directed to resolve the issue and report the correction to the employer. The letters ask for correction within 60 days, but this is not a firm legal deadline. Generally, employers set a deadline of somewhere between 60 and 120 days to give the employee time to solve the problem. The employee should also be given a blank W-4. Some do not give a deadline and simply send a W-4 annually, although this author does not recommend that approach.

In these politically volatile times, it is important for employers to cut through the noise and understand their actual legal obligations. This way, we can avoid needless employee anxiety, needless employer stress, and we can promote smooth running operations where all involved prosper.

The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at Raimondo & Associates in Fresno, at (559)432-3000.

Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner

Ventura County Ag Commissioner Henry Gonzales Started as Fieldworker

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

California Ag Today interviewed Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner, who has served in that post for 7 years. His unique story begins with his birth in Fresno and his work in the California fields at an early age.

Gonzales: My parents were migrant farmworkers, and back in the day, there was no day care for us, so they took us to the fields with them. I like to think I my career started in agriculture when I was old enough to pick up a plum and put it in their basket. We worked a lot in the Fresno area, but also in the San Jose area and Imperial County, following the crops as most migrant farmers do.

CalAgToday: You started working as a child, and what happened next? Did you and your family continue as a farmworkers?

Gonzales: We continued farm working for many years. We used to live in farm labor camps, whenever they were available. Sometimes we stayed with relatives or anywhere we could find. There were times when the only places we could find were the trees in the orchard, so sometimes we stayed there.

CalAgToday: So, when you were 13, you went off on your own?

Gonzales: Yes, when I was 13, I did what I thought I should do—work under my own social security card. I started working in the fields around Salinas. I was actually in the same lettuce harvesting crew with my grandfather who was 69 at the time.

CalAgToday: Well, Henry, walk me through it. How many years did you work with your grandfather?

Gonzales: I worked every summer and weekends since I was 13 through high school in the fields around Salinas.

This painting was done by Henry Gonzales's mother depicting his early work in the fields
This painting was done by Henry Gonzales’s mother depicting his early work in the fields.

 

 

CalAgToday: Tell me about high school.

Gonzales: I felt very strongly about completing high school because I know my parents did not. But you may find it interesting that when I was working in the fields around Salinas, I was a card-carrying member of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

CalAgToday: So the UFW recruited you early, or were you a supporter?

Gonzales: Well, it was a closed-shop situation; if you worked in that company, you were a member. So I believe I am the only ag commissioner who was once a card-carrying member of the UFW.

CalAgToday: And why is that significant to you, Henry?

Gonzales: As you know, in agriculture, farmworkers are, almost literally, the backbone of the industry. They are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. So, having that background really provides me with a broader perspective because I can understand farming from the ground level up. Coupled with my Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural science, my field work experience has given me a well-rounded background for agriculture.

I started working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office over 30 years ago. All Ag Commissioners start at the bottom of the organization, so I began as an agricultural inspector-biologist and worked my way up to deputy, chief deputy, and then seven years ago, I became Ag Commissioner here in Ventura County.

CalAgToday: So suddenly a job became available in Ventura County?

Gonzales: That was kind of interesting. I was in Monterey County with a great job, a great boss, and I could do pretty much what I wanted. But I got a call from Ventura County inviting me to apply for their ag commissioner position. I checked with my wife, and she said ‘Sure, why not? Try it!’ I did, and as they say, the rest is history.

I applied and got the position. I was reappointed here three years ago, and I am hoping to do at least one more term after my current term is over. I think all my years working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office, my degree in Ag Science, and my master’s in public administration, coupled with my childhood years working in the field really gives me a broad background in agriculture, especially as it exists in Ventura County and in the state of California.

CalAgToday: How did you have time to get a masters degree in public administration?

Gonzales: Well, while I was working for Monterey County, I spent a lot of sleepless nights and weekends in order to earn that degree from Golden Gate University’s satellite office in Monterey.

CalAgToday: When you look back, you have come so far from your beginnings as a farmworker, and you have seen so much. How do you put all of that together?

Gonzales: My experience has provided me with the broadest perspective, so when I deal with a challenging issue, I can see it from all vantage points, and that is very helpful to me in doing my job.