Why would a company want me to do this? Are there risks to me? Is this common practice?
Backdating your start date may occur for a number of reasons:
- Backdating the start date may move it into a previous quarter, meaning it comes from a different budget or different budget period.
- Organizations may have head count targets or restrictions. Backdating the start date may help meet the head count quota. There also may be quotas for ethnic groups, minorities or those with disabilities.
- There may be legal requirements. If you were hired through a visa program, hiring you earlier may meet requirements or deadlines. New legislation may come into affect and hiring you earlier may circumvent this.
- If you were hired through a contracting company, the contract between your employer and the contracting company may stipulate certain conditions. For example, if you are converted to permanent before the end of our contract, different commissions may apply to a conversion afterwards.
- Organizations may choose to give benefits, e.g. share options, to staff employed on a certain date. Your backdated start date may grant you access to different or more benefits. Similarly, if the company changes benefit providers (e.g. 401K/superannuation, health insurance), being hired earlier may mean you are part of one scheme or provider before it changes.
- Backdating your start date may coincide with you moving between projects or company policy changes. This could affect intellectual property, non-compete, non-poaching or similar agreements/policies that affect you.
- While not significant now, backdating your start date means you may be eligible for benefits earlier. For example, in the US, leave usually increases each year.
- The manager may have told people had already transitioned from contract to permanent and backdating your start date may just avoid explaining or justifying this to upper management, HR, finance, etc.
If it concerns you, ask why the start date would be backdated. It is not an unreasonable question and, while your boss may not give too much detail, you will probably get some form of explanation.
In terms of risks for you, technically you are lying on a legal document. The chances of someone pursuing this are negligible because likely no one other than you or the employer would be affected.
Different policies or contractual requirements may affect you. Your state or country may also have specific rules or regulations. Your risk is difficult to quantify without more specifics. I would recommend talking to a qualified professional in this area if you are concerned.