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Is it illegal for employers to make and keep copies of their employees social security cards?

I recently went to an HR training in which the presenter stated that it is illegal for us (as an employer) to keep copies of employees social security cards in our files. To date, we had been making copies of the cards and keeping them with the copies of the i9 forms.

If you read the back or second page of the I-9 form, it specifically gives employers the right to make copies of the supporting documents the employee presents for the I-9. However, those documents should NOT be kept in the employees personnel file. They should be kept in separate I-9 files. All of the copies of I-9s and supporting documents can be kept in a single file, set of alphabatized files or 3-ring binder.

You cannot dictate which documents an emploee uses for I-9 purposes. So for example, if an employee presents a passport as I-9 documentation, you cannot require that the employee also submit a social security card. However, you can make copies of any supporting documents that the employee presents — and it is in your best interest to do so. Unfortunately, employees do sometimes present forged documents. Having a copy of the document on hand will enable you to prove that it was a convincing fake, and is a good defense against charges that you knowingly hired an undocumented worker.

It would also be unlawful for you to require that job applicants — as opposed to employees — fill out an I-9 or give copies of identity documents. That is why the I-9 is completed after a job offer has been accepted, but before the employee has worked for 3 days.

Several states including Texas make it illegal for the employer to disclose the employees social security number to anyone outside the company. However, even in those states it is lawful for the employer to have copies of the I-9 documents. It would not be lawful if these copies were kept in the employees personnel file.

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6 Responses to “Is it illegal for employers to make and keep copies of their employees social security cards?”

  1. Sara Says:

    Rehiring an employee

    If an office employee working at one of our out of state location transfers to work at our facility and after working for a few months decides to resign. He then goes to work for the competitor, who then lays him off after working there for a few months. Even though he knows our work system well, would it be a good idea to rehire him back at any of our locations?

  2. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Sara! This is subjective — there is no one answer that will be correct in every situation. However, we will say this: the employee was so unhappy working for you that he sought another job. That suggests that he will still be equally unhappy working for you, and will be looking for another job the entire time he is employed — and perhaps looking for a job on company time.
    If the employee had resigned from his job with your competitor, you could reason that now he understands how great it is to work for you. However, he is coming back only because he is desperate for a job.
    The very fact that you are posting a question indicates you have mixed emotions about this employee.
    Unless you are convinced that this employee is the greatest thing since sliced bread, we would say do not rehire him. But other HR pros might have a different opinion. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  3. Chris Says:

    One thing the article did not mention was that if you make copies of supporting documentation for one employee you should do it for all. Not doing so could raise questions of discrimination.


  4. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Chris! Thanks for bringing up an excellent point! ~ Caitlin

  5. citizen watches Says:

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  6. Jessica Ochs Says:

    Hi there,
    The response says it’s unlawful to photocopy documents. I was going that you might tell me or lead me to where I might find these laws or statutes?
    Thank you!

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