You need your employes' social security numbers. Employers are one of the few organizations that really need social security numbers, as you have to pay employees, withhold taxes, and pay taxes. It's important that you have it.

But, it's not important that you have the social security number of job applicants. You don't need it at the application stage. Yet, many businesses ask for it in the application stage.

A reader sent me a link to a job application for a reputable company. It included this information about social security numbers:

We use information collected from applications for employment online to make employment decisions. Your Social Security number provided in an online employment application will be used to identify your records, and for background checks and other requests for information about you from employers, schools, banks, and others who know you, to the extent allowed by law. The information we collect using your Social Security number will be used for employment purposes and also for studies and statistics that will not identify you. We also may provide information we collect about you from online employment applications to federal, state, and local agencies to check on any violations of the law or for other legal purposes. Providing your Social Security number is voluntary and you may refuse. However, we cannot process your application, which is the first step toward obtaining employment with us, if you do not provide us with this information.

In other words, we'll do whatever we want with your social security number, and you can't apply without giving it to us. I mean, what studies? What statistics? That's pretty vague.

But, say all the recruiters, we need the social security number to run background checks. Yes--and no. If the job requires a credit check (which most do not), then you need a social security number to run the check. You also need the candidate to sign a specific release. And you should not be running any of this at the application stage.

You're going to wait until after you've interviewed a candidate to run these checks, so why not wait until that point to ask for their social security number?

It's not just for the job candidate's benefit--it's for yours.

Any system you have can be hacked. Big companies, with more money and tech know-how than your company probably has, have been hacked, exposing confidential information. Do you want to have your applicant tracking system be a rich source for identity thieves?

And it's not just the thieves. New laws put additional burdens on companies that have such confidential information. The California Consumer Privacy Act also applies to employment records in some situations. Fines are steep--$7500 per record. Why would you want to expose yourself more than you absolutely have to?

I contacted the company that has this disclaimer on their job applications and asked why they needed the social security number at application. I received this response:

Thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. We are updating the language to make it more clear that an individual's Social Security Number (SSN) is not required at the time of application.  We ask for the SSN only when an offer is extended.

They then stated their commitment to data privacy, and legal compliance. 

If your business is still asking for this information at the application stage, ask yourself if you really need it. (You don't.) Change your systems.