First it was Facebook passwords, now it is financials. It is becoming more regular that employers ask job applicants for a W-2 or tax returns in order to verify past salary or employment information. Kathleen Pender of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a story on this interesting issue. Given the tough job market, many job seekers are feeling obligated to provide such information. While many people have the gut reaction that this type of request is improper, as the article notes, there is arguably nothing legally that limits employers from asking for this information.

Of course, the improper use of this information could result in liability for the employer who obtains the information. And, as noted in the article, employers who ask for this information only from individuals in protected classes (such as for race, gender, etc…) would be violating discrimination laws.

It is also interesting to note that the newly adopted Labor Code provision that only allows employers to conduct credit checks (referred to as a consumer credit report in the law) for certain types of employees, provides an exclusion that allows employers to ask for information that verifies income or employment. The law, Labor Code section 1024.5 took effect at the beginning of this year, and defines a consumer credit report as follows:

(1) "Consumer credit report" has the same meaning as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 1785.3 of the Civil Code, but does not include a report that (A) verifies income or employment, and (B) does not include credit-related information, such as credit history, credit score, or credit record.

Because a consumer credit report is defined as excluding verification of “income or employment,” employers asking for W-2s or tax returns would not trigger this provision of the Labor Code. However, as the article notes, it appears that employers are incorporating requests to verify applicant’s pass salary as part of a general background check process. Depending on the facts on the type of information obtained in the background check, it could be argued that the overall background check conducted in these circumstances may constitute one that is covered by Labor Code section 1024.5. If that is the case, the employer has additional objections under the law, and may actually be restricted from performing the background check in the first place.