Social Security No-match Letters Considered

By James Denis

Jul. 18, 2008

Aramark Facility Services is a nationwide company that employs 170,000 people. In early 2003, the Social Security Administration sent Aramark letters advising that Social Security numbers for 48 of its janitors did not match information in the agency’s database.

    In response, Aramark sent letters to the 48 janitors threatening termination if they did not provide documentation to confirm their correct Social Security numbers. The union representing the workers requested additional time for the employees to respond, but Aramark refused and fired 33 workers who were unable to provide documentation to confirm their correct Social Security numbers.

    The union filed a grievance alleging Aramark violated the collective bargaining agreement by firing the workers without just cause. The arbitrator decided in favor of the workers, finding no “convincing information” that any of the workers were undocumented. Aramark brought suit in U.S. District Court in California to overturn the arbitration award. The district court found in favor of Aramark, holding that the failure to provide documentation constituted constructive notice of ineligibility to work in the United States.

    The U.S Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco disagreed with the district court’s decision, and held that “no-match” letters do not constitute constructive notice of ineligibility for employment in the U.S. because “the main purpose of the no-match letters is not immigration-related.” The court noted that the Social Security Administration, the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security have all issued guidance indicating that a Social Security number discrepancy alone does not automatically mean an employee lacks proper work authorization. The no-match letters received by Aramark were not intended to make a statement about the affected employees’ immigration status and, without more, did not provide Aramark with notice of any immigration violations. Aramark Facility Servs. v. Serv. Employees Int’l Union Local 1877, 9th Cir. No. 06-56662 (6/16/08).

    Impact: Because “no-match” letters are often the result of inaccurate or incomplete employer records, employers are advised that, upon receipt of a no-match letter, the employee should be given a reasonable time to investigate the discrepancy.

Workforce Management, July 14, 2008, p. 10Subscribe Now!

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