Is It Illegal for a Prospective Employer to Verify Your Current Salary?

If you're like most job-seekers, you've probably talked to dozens of human resources professionals and e-mailed hundreds of copies of your resume to prospective employers. It's highly likely that you've received at least a few responses from these employers' hiring departments.

However, this might be cold comfort. After all, there's a good chance that you provided misleading or downright untrue information on your application or cover letter. While this is a dubious practice, it's not uncommon: According to recent surveys, more than half of all American job applicants admit to embellishing key aspects of their employment history or qualifications. Many applicants "pad" their resumes with nonexistent or exaggerated internships. Others inflate past salary or bonus figures. If you've provided misleading, exaggerated or unsubstantiated compensation-related information to a prospective employer, you might be wondering whether your dishonesty will be discovered.

In the United States, employers are not prohibited from double-checking job applicants' quoted salary figures. If you provide a public or private employer with information about the compensation that you've received in the past, you should expect its hiring department to contact your previous employers and confirm that you're telling the truth. Before deciding to proceed with a new hire, most selective employers will take this step.

However, your previous employers might not provide any information to your prospective employer. Unless they've been issued a subpoena, U.S.-based employers are under no legal obligation to disclose any information about current or former employees. In fact, most employers specifically forbid their human resources departments from discussing such matters. In most cases, these departments will simply confirm your dates of employment and refuse to give out any additional data.

It's important to note that the consequences for providing misleading or untrue information on a job application can be serious. Although you probably won't face criminal charges for lying to a private employer, you might be held criminally liable for making egregious misrepresentations to a government agency.

However, it's more likely that you'll simply be terminated for your transgression. Depending upon the structure of your employment contract, it's also possible that you'll have to pay back certain wages or benefits that you received during the course of your employment stint. In light of these consequences, it would be unwise for you to make material misrepresentations on any job application. Whether you're putting in an application at McDonald's or looking for work at a high-powered law firm, your dishonesty is likely to haunt you.

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