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Horrible Former Employer Wants Me To Fill Out A W-9 ASAP?
January 23, 2014 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Eight months ago I left a job at a horrible and horribly disorganized company. If it matters, there was some bad blood that I left. Today they have started calling and emailing me asking/begging/demanding that I fill out a W-9 for them ASAP. I don't trust that they aren't trying to screw me over.

I believe I already have all the tax information I need from them.

1. Do they really need with W-9 from me?

2. Any chance filling out a W-9 for them harms me?
posted by Spurious to Work & Money (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, W-9s are normally filled out by independent contractors, not W-2 employees. Unless your understanding with them to begin with was that you'd be paid as a 1099 contractor, this probably means they're trying to reclassify you as a contractor now, which would absolutely screw you over.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:28 AM on January 23 [10 favorites]


If you were an "employee" they don't need a W-9 from you, that's only for contractors/vendors for whom they don't withhold taxes. You probably filled out a W-4 when you were hired?

Are they trying to reframe your time with them as a contractor or vendor instead of an employee. Did they withhold taxes when you were working for them? We might need a bit more info to answer this.
posted by HuronBob at 8:28 AM on January 23


Were they doing tax withholding when they were paying you before?
posted by Sequence at 8:29 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Here's what TurboTax has to say about it:
What happens if a W-9 is not filled out?

If you don't fill out a W-9 duly requested by an employer, partner or other entity duly entitled to your taxpayer ID information, you may be penalized $50 for each instance. You may also be subject to backup withholding, which means the payor will withhold 28 percent of your check and forward the proceeds to the IRS. If you file a false statement that results in no backup withholding, and you are not exempt from the backup withholding requirement, you may be subject to a $500 penalty per incident. If you falsify information, you may be prosecuted for criminal behavior, and even imprisoned.

If you receive a W-9 from a worker or vendor, and you misuse that confidential information or disclose it improperly, you may be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

In other words, if you’re asked to complete a W-9 form by someone you’re doing work for, it’s best to do it promptly and accurately.
Also, I'm pretty sure your employer SHOULD have done this before you started work for them, not months after you left, but whatever, it's just a form. I suppose in theory they could use your SSN for identity theft but otherwise I don't know what harm it could do. Or if they weren't withholding taxes appropriately that could come back to bite you in the ass now, but that will happen with or without the W-9.

(I'm assuming you were not a W-2 employee before.)
posted by mskyle at 8:30 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Since you're referring to them as an employer and not a client, this makes me think they're trying to retroactively turn you into an independent contractor so they do not have to pay their share of your payroll taxes.

If so ... screw 'em. Ignore.

From here:

I received a W-9 from my employer, what should I do?

If you are, or were, being treated as an employee (with a regular paycheck), and your employer suddenly asks you to fill out a Form W-9, this could indicate that your employer now wants to treat you as an independent contractor. This is a rather sticky situation: on the one hand, there are sometimes legitimate reasons why you might be an independent contractor rather than an employee. On the other hand, sometimes employers start to run into financial difficulties and they can no longer afford to pay their half of the payroll taxes. If you get a W-9 from your employer, and you should first ask yourself whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. Ask your employer for clarification. And if you cannot reach consensus after talking with your employer, you can ask the IRS to get involved to make a determination of your work status. For more details see Independent Contractor or Employee? on the IRS Web site.

posted by jayder at 8:33 AM on January 23 [20 favorites]


Also, I'm pretty sure your employer SHOULD have done this before you started work for them, not months after you left, but whatever, it's just a form.

In this case, it is most definitely not "just a form". I don't know that we can answer this definitively for you, but there's enough of a fishy smell to this that you should absolutely contact the IRS and possibly a lawyer before doing anything here.
posted by The Michael The at 8:35 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]


Just to add details: I was definitely a full time employee and I am receiving a W-2 from them.
posted by Spurious at 8:36 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Their either really confused or trying to fuck with you. If you've got a W-2 for last year's income, I think you can just ignore them.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:39 AM on January 23


Then I think under the circumstances, at the very least you could ask about WHY they need it, but I can't see any foreseeable reason they'd need it. I think if they're that disorganized, they probably are screwed up somewhere. Did you ever receive ANY checks from them that didn't have withholding done and weren't run through the payroll system?
posted by Sequence at 8:40 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Did you actually receive a W-2 yet? Did you fill out a W-4 when you started working with them? Did they withhold taxes from your paycheck? What do your paystubs say?
posted by melissasaurus at 8:41 AM on January 23


I did already receive my W-2.
posted by Spurious at 8:41 AM on January 23


when you walk out the shop door for the very last time, under negative conditions, you are a free man. there is no obligation on your part to do anything more for your erstwhile employer. what you tell them in response to the pending request will depend on how comfortable you are using words like "fuck".
posted by bruce at 8:44 AM on January 23 [29 favorites]


To be clear .. This actually seems like an actual, deliberate attempt to screw you, abuse the independent contractor concept, and avoid paying payroll taxes. This is not disorganization.

I say this as a former business owner. The business's share of payroll taxes can be very onerous if the business is not setting aside the money in a separate account throughout the year. And I speak from experience when I say the IRS will go after the business very aggressively to get the payroll taxes from the business.

So no, this doesn't look like disorganization to me, it looks like a deliberate, calculated attempt to break the law and screw you by dumping their tax obligation in your lap.
posted by jayder at 8:44 AM on January 23 [44 favorites]


Reply to their email stating that you have already received your W-2 from them, thankyouverymuchhaveaniceday.

If they persist, ask them to detail to you by reply why they think they need a W-9 from you.
posted by vignettist at 8:46 AM on January 23 [16 favorites]


jayder, I don't think that's true under the circumstances, when withholding's already been done, and certainly when a W-2's already been received. Spurious, I think either your name accidentally somehow got onto the wrong list, or else they're showing a check >$600 written to you (or several checks totalling that much) outside of payroll, but yeah, you won't know without asking for an explanation.
posted by Sequence at 8:46 AM on January 23


Exactly what vignettist said, "I already have the approriate tax forms, thanks so much for following up."

If they persist, ask them, "I was employed as a full time employee, I signed a W4 and I've recieved a W2. Why on EARTH would you need me to fill out a form saying that I'm a contractor, when I'm not even employed by you assholes anymore?"

Verify that the W2 is for 2013, not a prior year.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:52 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


@Jayder: I worked from home and they did buy me a cheap laptop for work (probably over $600). However, my contract says that it is mine to keep after 12 months (I left well after that).

Could that be it?
posted by Spurious at 8:53 AM on January 23


Are you able to contact the IRS (or whoever), explain the situation, explain that you wish to do things that are in accordance to the law, say you're concerned things may not be on the level, and ask them to tell you what you should do? In your shoes I would be asking the people who would be holding you accountable IF this was shifty. Don't risk getting on the wrong side of this for these people. Cover your ass.

It sounds incredibly shifty, though. I absolutely would not fill one out until they explained exactly why they think you need to, and then inform them that you will be double checking with the IRS to ensure this is on the level. I'm thinking it is possible that the IRS would be interested to hear of what is going on regardless.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:53 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


jayder, I don't think that's true under the circumstances, when withholding's already been done, and certainly when a W-2's already been received. Spurious, I think either your name accidentally somehow got onto the wrong list, or else they're showing a check >$600 written to you (or several checks totalling that much) outside of payroll, but yeah, you won't know without asking for an explanation.

The withholding has been done. But I would bet that the money that was withheld just went into operations and was not set aside. This happens all the time.

I'd be interested to know how they'd respond if the OP said "ok, I'll do the W-9 as soon as the check clears for the money you withheld from my checks." Because if he's/she's an independent contractor they shouldn't have withheld anything from the checks. And if they succeed in treating OP as an independent contractor the OP will be on the hook for taxes and almost certainly will never see the withheld money again.
posted by jayder at 8:55 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]


@Jayder: I worked from home and they did buy me a cheap laptop for work (probably over $600). However, my contract says that it is mine to keep after 12 months (I left well after that).

Could that be it


Red Herring.

The only way you'll know for sure is to ask them. But who cares? You have the forms you need, and you are done with them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


@Jayder: I worked from home and they did buy me a cheap laptop for work (probably over $600). However, my contract says that it is mine to keep after 12 months (I left well after that).

Could that be it?
posted by Spurious at 8:53 AM on January 23


Not a tax professional and I'm really just talking based on my experience as a terrible small business owner ... But no.
posted by jayder at 9:02 AM on January 23


1. Do they really need with W-9 from me?

No. "Need" here means "oh god we owe the IRS tons of money, and it's January freaking 23rd, we are SCREWED. Lets fuck over this guy."

2. Any chance filling out a W-9 for them harms me?

Yep! The withholdings from your paycheck, are supposed to go towards paying taxes if you are a W-2 employee. If you go through with this to become a W-9 employee, and that withholdings money evaporated from Horrible Corp, you would now be on the hook for both the employee and employer payroll taxes. And you just effectively got a retroactive paycut! And you would owe the IRS late fees, because you, a W-9 employee should have been paying that shit quarterly!

Do know that the IRS is very hip to this nonsense, and even provides form SS-8 for you or your employeer to file and determine if you are a contractor or not. (Hint, you're not).

So, I'd write back to them and tell them that if you want this 1099 filled out, you will also file a SS-8 with the IRS. And to go fuck themselves.
posted by fontophilic at 9:31 AM on January 23 [14 favorites]


I'd call the IRS on this one. It's doubtful that you're magically the only one they're trying this with. Maybe some aren't as savvy as you and would actually get caught with double taxes.
posted by zug at 9:45 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]


W-9s are normally filled out by independent contractors, not W-2 employees.

On the other hand, if there is any other form of income that could potentially happen, a lot of companies like to have a W-9 on file. For instance my company uses W2s for all our payroll, but lots of employees rent equipment to the company, or have to be reimbursed for various things, or have other baroque arrangements about non-payroll money coming to them from our company (usually through Accounts Payable, not Payroll). To make life easier, we require everyone to fill out a W-9 even if their particular circumstance doesn't explicitly seem like it would result in non-payroll income.

That said, this should have been required of you when you filled out your start paperwork, and explained to you at that time, if it's just a blanket thing that they get from everyone just in case.

I don't know that it's scammy of them to want a W-9 from you rightthefucknow. It probably means that whoever does their accounting doesn't have their shit together. You should absolutely ask why they need this, and find out explicitly what they paid you that requires that particular form.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Since you long ago received your final paycheck (or you'd surely have mentioned that!) plus you've also received your W-2 for the portion of 2013 you worked for them, you don't need anything else from them, nor are you required to do anything for them.

File me with the various suspicious minds above that these people are either a) trying to screw you over, b) up to something nefarious with their own taxes, or c) both a and b.

Were you by any chance, working for them for part of 2012, and did they give you a W-2 that you filed with your 2012 taxes? While it's true that your status could have changed after that from employee to contractor, that 2012 W-2 would be a very handy item to back up your position in case the IRS asks. Also, if you haven't already, file your own taxes just as soon as you possibly can: get your own paperwork in to the IRS with that 2013 W-2 before this company can get theirs in and claim you were a contractor --- get yours in first, so theirs is the one that raises the red flag.

(Also also, take good care of any paperwork that mentions you keeping that laptop!)
posted by easily confused at 10:14 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Oh, and jaydar mentions the possibility of the money that the company withheld from your paychecks having gone to operations and not actually set aside/forwarded to the IRS --- if this is what happened, I'm extremely certain you do not need to worry.

Speaking from experience, my own employer did this: he withheld the proper amounts from my & my coworkers paychecks, but then turned around and spent that money on a combination of company operations & his personal home improvements. My W-2 showed those withheld (if misspent!) amounts; I filed my taxes as usual and never had a single question from the tax people. My boss was caught; he ended up pleading guilty, and was sentenced to prison time plus repayment. The only employee who was negatively impacted was the company comptroller, who assisted Boss in diverting the funds (and who also got a short prison sentence).
posted by easily confused at 10:32 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Did you do any work for them after you left, for which you received payment?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:44 AM on January 23


Since you've already received your W-2, if it accurately lists your total 2013 income from this place, don't send the W-9. I can't think of any legitimate reason they would issue you a 1099 in addition to your W-2 unless you were receiving rent or royalty income from them. That's not to say that there isn't one, but chances are slim. The only downside to you would be if you ever worked with them again on a contract basis, they'd have to use backup withholding.

Curious as to what they'd say if you asked them why they need you to fill it out.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:46 AM on January 23


@ Thorszad, Oh GOD no. I got the heck out of there and never looked back.
posted by Spurious at 10:51 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


You have some great advice up thread, but for the curious among us please check back in here and let us know how this pans out.
posted by dgran at 11:56 AM on January 23 [15 favorites]


@ dgran I do have a small update. I replied to their request with an email asking for details why I, a former full time employee with my W2 info in my hand, would need to fill out a W9. They quickly replied that they did not know why, were confused when someone else in the company had said I needed it, and would get back to me with details. I did no fill out any W9 for them.

I also talked to a friend of mine who still works full time (W2) at the company, and he too was asked to fill out a W9. He doesn't know why.

I suspect one of two things is happening:

1. They are in some cash flow problems (which has happened before and was a huge reason I left) relating to taxes and thus are asking everyone to fill out a W9, hoping some portion of them do so without thinking about it. I do know that a young former employee was previously possibly screwed over in a similar way (she ended up paying a bunch of taxes [rightly or wrongly] that she thought had being withheld).

2. They are genuinely so disorganized that they think a W-9 is needed for something. Maybe the money they gave me for my work laptop got categorized as contracting work or something.

Needless to say, thank you all for the advice. Thanks to ya'll I replied with very detailed and knowledgeable emails about W2 vs. W9 and probably freaked them out enough that they backed off.
posted by Spurious at 3:16 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


They are in some cash flow problems (which has happened before and was a huge reason I left) relating to taxes and thus are asking everyone to fill out a W9, hoping some portion of them do so without thinking about it. I do know that a young former employee was previously possibly screwed over in a similar way (she ended up paying a bunch of taxes [rightly or wrongly] that she thought had being withheld).

Wooooow. Yes, please keep us posted.
posted by jayder at 4:25 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Glad you caught on to them, and did not fall for this. If they really are such jerks, a quick call to the IRS suggesting they might want to check out this particular organization might be in order.
posted by rpfields at 11:08 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


It's possible that their accountant/lawyer/someone told them they needed I-9s from people and they got confused.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:50 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


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