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After a few days during my wife's background check, one of the higher ups said there's a pay discrepancy on a job from 10 years ago (which would put her at 23). The salary amount my wife told the company did not match with what the company found during their background check.

She's 33 now and has held her current job for 6 years and only a couple here and there - she's not a flight risk. And now they are telling her it could be problematic.

They already extended an offer letter.

It seems a bit strange and worrisome, especially since it is from 10 years ago. How can she ensure this does not affect her employment, or take action to minimize the potential effects?

  • This is a large private sector company that does contract work for the US government.
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    Hi B W, I edited your question a bit to clarify it and make it more on topic here. If I changed your intent too much feel free to edit and clarify - welcome to the Workplace! – enderland Feb 20 '15 at 1:07
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    They already "extended" an offer, or they already "rescinded" an offer? – BrianH Feb 20 '15 at 2:02
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    Serious question for you (and your wife) to think about - do you really want to work somewhere that finds an irrelevant discrepancy from ten years old relevant? If a potential employer even hinted to me that something like even showed up on their radar, I'd be re-evaluating whether or not I wanted to work there. If they told me it could be problematic, I'd respond by rescinding my interest in working for them. – HopelessN00b Feb 20 '15 at 2:57
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    How big was this discrepancy? $5k wouldn't be a big deal, but $50k would be. – David K Feb 20 '15 at 13:29
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    Wow. Thanks for all the notes. For added clarification; after digging in, she stated a full time job paid her $40k ten years ago - turns out it did not - she made $40k in that one year 10 years ago, but it was from 1 full time job and a couple additional side jobs. So when she filled out the application, she defaulted to the full time job, and accounted for the money she made for the year. The employer did not see the additional side jobs that helped accumulate the $40k at first so they were like 'What's this about??' We just don't want it to be game over. Everything else has been clean. – B W Feb 20 '15 at 16:32
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I dealt with something much like this recently, where working for an insurance company led to a background check that needed specific days of start and end work and proof of income from jobs I had over 7 years ago - it's a real fun experience. Or not.

In my case it was simply because they couldn't talk with the owner of the business to verify my income because the company was sold. That didn't matter - to approve me they needed verification none the less.

Note that this isn't an inquisition (even though it can feel like it), and this isn't all that abnormal. The main problem you can have is if someone made a "material misrepresentation". Otherwise it's just going to require the appropriate verification be made, so the background check can be completed and approved. Be in contact with them and cooperative and explain any discrepancy, and you'll likely end up just fine!

Note also that job offers are often contingent on an approved background, so don't fret that the job is on hold - that's normal.

The question is then, what do you need to do to provide proof? Amazingly as I found out, there's lots of things you can do if a simple "letter of explanation" turns out to not be sufficient!

One thing, and often the first line of proof, is information from the IRS. If you somehow still have the original W2s (W2 information being provided was mentioned), hat tip to you and that's great. But if you don't you can still get an IRS transcript that will at least show your income going back 10 years (or possibly more), and this can be used to verify the past income.

If that isn't suitable, one can also get a Social Security Administration Earning's Information report that can give income and addresses of employers going back...well, all the way to when you first worked a job that reported to the SSA. This takes time and a small fee, but it again can be used to prove income even if a company is unavailable, is wrong, or if they just make stuff up.

Like the good book says: Don't Panic.

It's perfectly natural for it to be a scary and worrying experience, but many of us have been in the same position before and it's OK. Even if a reasonable mistake was made in entering old job info, you'll be asked to explain and if it isn't deemed "material" then it won't effect the job - just hold up the background check and rile your nerves.

Stay in contact with the employer and the background check firm and ensure you are all on the same page - there was a hold-up in the background check but you are working to resolve it and provide any documentation requested, etc. Pretend to stay cool, even if you don't feel that way. It'll be resolved in a matter of days or a few weeks, generally - which is terribly unpleasant, but then it'll be over and life will go on.

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    There are a number of instances in which the Social Security Administration report may be inaccurate. Its information can support your claims, but it is not gospel. Issues with an employer's reporting of salary or remission of employment taxes is one cause I have faced (by the way, if that happens, follow the instructions on the report to get it fixed ASAP). Another would be for high wage earners who make more than the "cap" for Social Security tax. – Andrew Feb 20 '15 at 3:40
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    plus box 3 of the W-2 is gross - cafeteria - HSA; box 1 is box 3 - 401K. Thus the SSA only knows about box 3 which is not the answer an employer would give regarding salary. – mhoran_psprep Feb 20 '15 at 11:14
  • @Andrew That is very true that they aren't gospel, but they are evidence of a sort - if the SSA info agrees with what you say, and if the IRS agrees with that, then it probably doesn't matter what the company says. Also if they all support the same general range, it resolves the issue of material misrepresentation even if it isn't right on the dot. – BrianH Feb 20 '15 at 19:39
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    @mhoran_psprep While also certainly true, it still establishes an upper and lower limit by reason and matter of law (401k only being so large, cafeteria can only cost so much normally) that it can still be plenty valuable. Most won't care about exact figures - but it establishes a range. If the SSA has a report of 30k and you said you made 100k, the SSA data is going to be a problem - on the other hand if they say 50k and you say 40-45k, then that's support for your statements. If the company said "they only made 30k", then SSA + your statement means the company error is obviously an error. – BrianH Feb 20 '15 at 19:42
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I have never had a background check for a job look into past salary. I have had a mortgage company ask. Most large US companies have outsourced the references to a third party. They will confirm date of employment only, and will only discuss salary if the purpose of the check is for a loan and the employee or former employee has given permission to disclose that information.

If the US government is conducting a background check for a security clearance they may ask about income info, but what they asked for is the AGI for each of the last several years. The company wouldn't know that because that could be from multiple jobs and would include numbers not related to salary.

Unless the numbers were way off, and were not obviously a typo I don't see how a discrepancy form 10 years ago makes a difference. If they found a delta, they would ask for you to explain it.

  • Thank you for the input. The wife has provided W2 info for this process, it was requested. The only explanation is that it was an honest mistake. – B W Feb 20 '15 at 0:12
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    Your experience isn't really relevant to this case: some jurisdictions or roles require more thorough background checks, particularly financial ones where they may allow you to be coerced, manipulated, blackmailed or bribed, for example. Or even just where absolute honesty is required – Jon Story Feb 20 '15 at 14:29

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