What’s in a name? William Shakespeare’s Juliet asked that timeless question more than four centuries ago, sparking the debate of whether a name itself is truly significant.
As Juliet later discovered, there’s a LOT in a name…and the reasons Americans change our names are as diverse as our country itself…marriage, divorce, adoption, blending or hyphenating names, immigration or simply the desire for a moniker that seems to fit better.
And if you’re an employer…a name change definitely matters to you.Today, we’ll be discussing what you need to do when an employee changes his or her name. Your responsibilities fall across five separate areas: Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, benefits and your own internal records.
First, let’s discuss Social Security. Before you update your employee’s name in the payroll system, you must have an updated Social Security card reflecting the correct new name. It is your responsibility to make sure that the name in your payroll system matches the name on the card, so don’t update until the card has been amended.
Once your payroll reflects the new name and the Social Security card, you need to satisfy Internal Revenue Service requirements, specifically W-4 and, at tax time, W-2. Have your employee complete a new W-4 form. According to IRS regulations, the name on the Social Security card must match the W-4 and, at tax time, the W-2.
Next, you’ll need to address requirements from the USCIS, or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. All of your employees should have completed a Form I-9 to verify both their identity and eligibility for employment at the time of hire. The rules for officially updating the I-9 are more complex than for Social Security and Internal Revenue. Technically, you are not required to officially update an employee’s I-9 with a name change, but the agency recommends that the I-9 be current and that you note name changes in Section 3 of the form. Remember, the government can inspect your I-9 forms, so information should be current. You can learn about name changes and the I-9 form and the documentation required in greater detail by visiting I-9 Central on the USCIS website.
Next, your benefit plans will need to be updated to reflect the name change. You should also have your employee re-do beneficiary forms so that the name is correct on those as well. Of course, if the name change is due to a change in family status such as marriage or divorce, and your plan allows it, the employee may want to make mid-year changes to the plan such as adding or dropping dependents.
Finally, your internal records should be updated…everything from personnel files to e-mail addresses to company directories. It will save confusion to cross-reference these items with the old name for a period of time.