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I have had several background checks recently due to seasonal employment in Insurance. I have had multiple questions about my self-employment, or when I basically did not work. I was not receiving unemployment and frankly it is not their business how I survived; boyfriend, husband, etc.

A couple of the companies I worked with are no longer in business, however I did have W-2 forms to prove my work. That seemed not to be enough so this one Background Check company asked me for a copy of my tax return and I refused. I did not get the job. I felt my W-2 forms were enough.

Tell me if I have rights on a background check. I am not showing anyone my Tax return for a job. I feel that is too invasive. W-2 forms should suffice. Please help me for the next position.

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  • This article contains some useful information on what might be included in a BC and some of your rights.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 12:08
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    Could you clarify whether the employer is conducting these background checks or if they're being done by a third party? Per linkedin.com/pulse/running-background-check-employees-include "For some positions, the employer may require candidates to submit their tax records and file with the IRS to release private information for a complete tax background check. These occasions are rare and typically only occur for positions where the employee would handle large sums or have high-level access to confidential information." - I highlighted the part I felt was relevant.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 12:52
  • What did the paperwork you signed say? Every criminal, work history, and financial background check I have undergone has not been started until I sign paperwork authorizing it, and describing what data was being collected and why. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 20:16
  • "I am not showing anyone my Tax return for a job." Are you in California? In California, the law may be on your side, but I'd rather not research that topic if you're not located in California. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 21:45
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    "and frankly it is not their business how I survived" When you say this, it makes me think you did something illegal, like selling drugs or robbing banks. If so, I won't hire you. W-2s are not proof of total income. You could have 1099s. You could have capital gains, etc. $0.02
    – Scottie H
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 18:47

9 Answers 9

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Perhaps unfortunately, there is no law that forbids making this particular request, or using your response as a datum in their decision.

You have the right to deny them that info.

They have the right to decline to hire you.

Make your choice.

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    Before commenting, ask yourself if you would be using the comment feature for its intended purpose and keep our Be Nice policy in mind. Please don't comment to chastise, vent, share your own opinion, or to answer the question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 17:53
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I was not receiving unemployment and frankly it is not their business how I survived

Your're right. It's none of my business, and I don't really care what you did three years ago. Still, I (usually) don't invite people with unexplained gaps in their CVs for interviews. Why?

Because, as an employer, I'm doing a risk analysis before hiring someone. A bad hire can do serious damage to my company.

I don't know the job applicant, and I have only limited time I can spend to get to know them (because, you know, if I had lots of time to spare I wouldn't need additional employees). So I'm trying, in that limited time, to collect as much relevant information as possible.

Unexplained gaps in a CV increase the risk of hiring the applicant: There might be benign reasons of privacy, or there might be "red flags" that they are trying to hide, or they might just not accept the social norms of the "hiring game" (which, in turn, increases the risk of the applicant not accepting other social norms as well and being a "high maintenance employee").

By asking for additional information, they are actually doing you a favor: It means that their risk assessment of you is currently "don't hire", and they are giving you the opportunity to address their concerns. It's perfectly fine if you refuse that, but you also have to accept that this will leave their risk assessment at "don't hire".

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    "It means that their risk assessment of you is currently "don't hire"" -- does it really? Maybe it's their standard procedure that they apply before even considering the candidate? Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 13:31
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    "don't invite people with unexplained gaps in their CVs for interviews"... You're going to be missing out on a lot of good candidates. As long as they weren't in prison, what they were doing with that time really is none of your business and of no relevance to the role. Not to mention, a lot of employees who don't play the "hiring game" do so because they understand their value and won't waste their time with companies who don't show them a certain level of basic respect, not because they're going to be high maintenance Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 15:55
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    @ScottishTapWater: "You're going to be missing out on a lot of good candidates." That's exactly why I wrote "(usually)": If the candidate is otherwise a perfect fit (happens rarely enough, unfortunately), sure, I'll clarify that detail with a quick phone call or just invite them anyways. If they aren't a perfect fit and have gaps in their resume, well, my personal experience has been that inviting them was a big waste of time for both sides, so I stopped doing that. ymmv.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 18:42
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    Also, the profile picture of the OP is of a Black woman. The policy of not hiring people with a gap amplifies inequities in the job market; as soon as someone isn't able to find a job, employers take that as a sign that they have low value, which causes even more of a gap, in a vicious cycle. Black people are more likely to have that initial difficulty finding a job, followed by employer after employer discriminating against them, not directly based on their race, but on a condition that was ultimately caused by their race. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 6:20
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    Discriminating against people based on them not exhibiting willingness to kowtow to "social norms" also has a disparate impact on people of marginalized groups, including Black people. After all, having non-frizzy hair and speaking in standard American English are also "social norms". Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 6:21
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Very often the question is "Do they have the right to do X", when someone really means "They are doing X and I think it is very unfair, am I right thinking it is unfair and should they not be doing this, and how can I make them stop".

In this case, asking for your tax returns is unfair (your tax return is none of their business), but it is legal to ask, there is no way to stop them asking, and no way for them to force you to give an answer. Bribing someone in the tax office or an accountant to give them your tax return would likely be very illegal.

Asking "are you pregnant" is dangerous in the USA, and illegal in other countries. But even if it is illegal, telling them it is illegal won't get you the job. In Germany, it is legal to lie to illegal questions, and illegal to punish you in any way for lying to illegal questions. So they ask "Are you pregnant", you lie "No", 5 months later you go on maternity leave, and there is nothing they can do.

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    While there is nothing they can officially do, keep in mind that most people don't like being lied to and might find another (legal) excuse to retaliate/fire you. At the very least, work relationships might suffer from it. So of course, something being legal doesn't transfer to being advisable by default. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 9:46
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    German law says: Lying to an illegal question is the perfectly legal and moral thing to do. If you are pregnant and someone asks you an illegal question about it, when you know saying "yes" means you don't get a job, and saying "you are not allowed to ask this" means you don't get a job, then saying "no" is perfectly moral.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 16:50
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    @infinitezero: The fact that you get laid off just after you ask for maternity leave is very highly suspicious. It's not something a company will get away with. And firing you during maternity leave in Germany is close to impossible.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 16:51
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    @gnasher729 As long as they are in the "Probezeit" it likely doesn't matter that it's suspicious. And usually lasts 6 months. In any case, my comment was meant far more general and the OP is not even about pregnancy, so I think my warning still stands. People often like to think that they have nothing to fear, because they're acting legally, but don't take interpersonal relationships into account. Best advice would probably be to step away from companies who ask questions you feel uneasy about. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 18:01
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    "In Germany, it is legal to lie to illegal questions, and illegal to punish you in any way for lying to illegal questions." What a great law.
    – Vaelus
    Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 12:34
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The word "Right" has specific meaning.

Legally, yes. You have the right. The employer also equally has the right to not hire you.

If you imagine your "right" as in, "I won't give you want you want, but you still give me what I want", that's not a right, that's called entitlement.

Mutual respect of rights is the understanding that, legally, or even ethically or morally, it is fine and acceptable, and the same level of understanding is offered to the other side too.

However, I highly suspect most people's usage of rights involves some level of self-serving advantage and not really an honest discussion of rights.

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    Justified strictness in this answer, this kind of entitlement is all too widely spread I see it so often. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 13:18
  • Precisely. I think the OP's question boils down to where is the limit between what they are and aren't legally allowed to ask.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 17:35
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By rejecting any answer, you give up a chance to say things in your favor.

Never reject any answer. Do not think on, how to reject the answer.

Think on, how to say what helps them the most to give you the job.

For example, I believe, if you lived from your husband some years long, that means that you can say anything what does not have a trace. For example, maternity leave, or you helped him in your common business or anything. It depends a lot on the country and on the job market segment in which you try to survive, I am not familiar with that. What I know: never miss a chance to learn, how to pack the reality in the most favorable form (for them).

Directly lying is probably not the best what you can do, if they somehow estimate it (and do not underestimate the skills of a boss doing this since decades), then they might reject you with a bullshit reason, or they fire you on the spot if they employed you.

Rejecting the answer is one of the least favorable answer for them.

Do not lie. Pack the reality on a beautiful form. They might decipher it, so do it on a way which helps them to decipher on a way favorable for you. For example, if you lied that you made your common business with your husband, then help them to decipher your story to that this business did not work. It is still much better, if they think that you had not done anything.

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The best source for this question would be a lawyer to see if there are laws restricting employer background checks. My gut feeling is no but IANAL so when in doubt talk to one.

That said as long as what they’re doing is legal, you should expect that if you refuse a background check, they won’t hire you. That’s your right and your choice, but the companies do background checks to reduce the risk of hiring a candidate who’s a bad fit. If you deny them the opportunity to reduce that risk with regard to hiring you (which is totally your right), they’ll exercise their right to not hire you.

Note that the background check in question may not be 100% moral or ethical; I’m not addressing that in my answer. I wouldn’t show a company my tax return unless I really needed the job, and only then heavily redacted. Maybe they have a good reason for asking, maybe they don’t. But unless they’re violating hiring laws (e.g. discriminating), they always have a right to not hire, and generally will not do so if you don’t follow their interview and hiring process to a tee.

Put yourself in their shoes. You have maybe 5 minutes to review a 1-2 page description of this person that you don’t know at all, and maybe an hour total to talk to them and from that tiny bit of info you have to make a hiring decision, something that costs at least hundreds of thousands of dollars at the outset, not counting future investment, the direct costs a bad fit could incur for the company, and the cost to fire someone who turns out to be a bad fit. For every candidate with red flags and big question marks, you’ll find at least one if not a dozen that are just as strong or stronger and don’t have these potential risks. As a candidate it’s important for you to present yourself (honestly and accurately) as a solid low-risk candidate for the company, which is the reason for all the resume and interview guidance, e.g. about avoiding unexplained gaps on your resume.

Also keep in mind that hiring managers are people too and they usually don’t want to set someone up for failure. They’re looking for a win-win, a good candidate who will do a good job and work well as part of the team and who will be happy and grow professionally. It’s much kinder to reject a candidate who’s a bad fit than to hire them only to have to fire them later.

So while hiring processes may seem harsh (and some are unreasonably so), much of it stems from having to make a major commitment based on VERY little information. It’s analogous to having to find a spouse on the basis of a single short date. If that were your predicament you’d be VERY quick to reject “candidates” over potential red flags because you wouldn’t want to risk a bad decision with lasting consequences. Even a divorce (analogous to firing) is a big deal—it’s costly, takes a lot of time, and is very messy. Better to find the right person from the outset if possible. The same goes for hiring and candidates.

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It might also depend on in which state you live and work. I've had background checks for many jobs, and submitting a tax return or a W-2 was never part of the process. By providing the prospective employer with a tax return or W-2 you are effectively disclosing how much your salary was in your previous jobs. In California, for example, prospective employers are not allowed to ask you for a salary history (and I would imagine that that would also extend to requesting documents, like tax returns and W-2 forms, that disclose previous income). I know that several other states have similar laws.

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This is an easy question to answer: you have neither the right nor ability to block a background check. You only have the right to be non-cooperative, which, in the case of a job related background check is the same as rejecting the job. Which you have the right to do.

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  • In my jurisdiction a background check cannot happen without consent.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 20:29
  • @NeilMeyer: Question was tagged "united-states".
    – jmoreno
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 23:01
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Yes, you can refuse. They can refuse to hire you. How much do you value being employed? How much do you value being employed at this employer?

Is requesting a tax return an unreasonabal request? Probably, could be an illegal one in certain locales as well.

Do people do things that are unreasonable for a living. All the friggin time.

You say you were unemployed but not on welfare. This seems that you have some access to money that you don't have to work for.

Whatever this 'source' is it may end at any time leaving you in desperate need of an income.

This may happen a year from now or ten years from now. I predict that may be the day you value a job correctly.

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