How should daughter explain work history for pre-employment screening?
May 4, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

My daughter has been privately teaching ESL students online for a few years for a few hours a week, and taking care of me while I was recovering from cancer. She was just offered a new job, and is unsure how to explain this part of her job history if it comes up in her pre-employment screening as she's never filled out a 1099 or any tax form for it. How can she explain this issue if it is brought up? We are both worried sick that this will torpedo her new job offer.

My daughter lives with me, and has been privately teaching ESL students online after coming home from abroad a few years back. The students are all friends and clients from her time working abroad. She originally came home for my sake, since I had come down with a serious illness (which is finally under control).

She gets paid through Pay pal, and was teaching so few hours, usually less than 10 a week, that she didn’t file taxes. Also, she has been struggling with mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.) for a few years… and she is on medicaid - I think partly as a result of having had to take care of me. So she didn’t do a lot of things she probably should have during this time… it has been hard on all of us. Happily, though, her mental health situation has been a lot better recently and she has been taking a lot of positive steps.

Happier still, she was recently referred for a new job by a friend. She’d be working from home - it deals with what she studied in school and would be a huge boost to her career. She mentioned to the friend that the work she was doing now was, for lack of a better term, “under the table.” The friend didn’t seem to think anything of it. She then was interviewed and received a job offer, which she accepted. They are now, however, conducting a pre-employment screening and background check, and she doesn’t know what to say if they start asking questions or ask for tax forms for her online teaching.

Everything else during the check should be fine: education, other employment, criminal history, etc. But she is already convinced that she will not get the job and is despondent. She doesn’t know how to explain her teaching situation and lack of tax forms if they come up.

She has the job and has signed the offer letter, so she has the job so long as they don’t find anything in her history that doesn’t add up - what can she do to try and make sure no red flags pop up regarding her online teaching while they handle the pre-employment check?

And if they ask for her to explain what’s going on, what do you think she should say? Should she bring up my situation? I’m assuming that referring to her online teaching as being under the table would be a mistake, but I don’t know what else to say about it. I also don’t know if she should talk about her mental health struggles. What advice would you give her for navigating this situation?

I can tell this job means so much to her, so I desperately want her to get it - it seems so hard to get a job these days for anyone who has had a rough patch in life. Please help me help her.
posted by BuddyBoo to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
She can describe the work as freelance. That's not unusual for someone providing tutoring services. And I've never heard of anyone asking for tax forms from a previous employer.
posted by shoesietart at 8:18 AM on May 4, 2017 [37 favorites]

No, she should not talk about her mental health struggles as part of the background check. She can mention taking care of a family member as part of the reason for an employment gap, if asked.

She has already been hired, but was the online teaching experience part of the reason she was hired? If not, I would not even mention it. If yes, she should never use the term 'under-the-table' - on preview, freelance would be a great term to use.
posted by soelo at 8:20 AM on May 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I don't think an employer gets to ask for tax documentation regarding previous work, unless they are sponsoring her for a work visa (and even then I'm not sure it'd be legal exactly).

She was tutoring, her students paid her directly, it wasn't much money, there's no real boss to give a reference. As long as she didn't falsely represent herself as being a bigwig at a corporate training job and they're hiring her for her experience there, that's all that matters.

She can say she was taking care of her mother during that time, for an issue that is now totally resolved and will not be an ongoing concern. She should not say anything about her own health, mental or otherwise.

This is all fine and normal, as long as she didn't misrepresent her teaching as a bigger deal than it was. If she went to school where she said and doesn't have a criminal record she failed to disclose, this should be boringly routine.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:29 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

As others have said, this kind of thing will not come up in any kind of background check I have been involved with. Describe the work as "freelance" and her previous tax status matters not one bit to her new employer.

But she is already convinced that she will not get the job and is despondent. She doesn’t know how to explain her teaching situation and lack of tax forms if they come up.

That said, this sounds like the kind of catastrophic thinking that is such a hallmark of my struggles with anxiety and depression, I think it would be good for her to check in with her mental health provider to discuss these feelings.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:38 AM on May 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

And some free advice from a middle-aged woman in the workforce: always underexplain, never apologize. Women walk through their lives apologizing for the slightest thing, and we obsess and pre-catastrophize and prepare these elaborate explanations for the smallest flaw, and it comes off as weak and we get punished for it. (It's anxiety, and should be worked on as well.)

A man would lie about the teaching job, get caught, and straight-faced gaslight and say, "right, that's what I told you before, it was just tutoring" and see if he gets away with it. I'm not exactly saying "be like that guy" but at least "know you're competing with that guy for jobs, and him not being visibly anxious plays better in the room than falling apart".
posted by Lyn Never at 8:46 AM on May 4, 2017 [27 favorites]

I am going through a background check as I write this.

When I filled out the form authorizing the check, I had to let them know every job I've had in the past 7 years and I included my freelance work. The background check company asked me to fax forms proving I was freelancing. Some of my jobs I filed taxes for, so I had 1099s and tax forms, but I also sent invoices, pay stubs and receipts.

Has your daughter already told them she has been tutoring? They may ask her to prove this. It's totally understood that she may not have made enough to file taxes on it, but receipts from PayPal should be enough to prove she actually was freelancing/tutoring. It really depends on what the employer who is conducting the background check wants to know.

I've never had to go through something this thorough for a job so I feel your pain, but it should be fine. If she's told them this is what she's been doing and they ask for clarification, she can explain with PayPal receipts if necessary. They'll let her know what they need from her, if anything.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:50 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Girlmightlive, this is the kind of background check I believe she is going through... 7 years job history, drug test, etc.

It feels so invasive... the future will be a scary place in this regard, I fear.
posted by BuddyBoo at 8:58 AM on May 4, 2017

What advice would you give her for navigating this situation?

- They will probably not ask about her tax forms unless this job has security aspects. It's possible but not probable.
- If, for some reason, that is a dealbreaker at this job, there are many many other jobs that will not ask for things like this
- Job searching is stressful and I concur with Rock Steady, if she is feeling despondent about this it might be good for a little wellness checkup to make sure things are going okay.
- She should not mention her mental health struggles, or I wouldn't if it were me
- It's okay to say she was freelancing and give an idea of her workload
- It's okay to say, if it's necessary, that she was also taking care of an ill family member with a resolved (ish) health concern

Just keep moving forward. No need to dwell on things that could have happened in the past, it's not productive. Getting accepted for a job is genuinely good news and she should be distracted from catastrophizing about this which you can help her with. Don't even factually hit the stuff point by point, just encourage waiting and seeing.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I work for the government. We don't ask for tax forms.
posted by notjustthefish at 10:02 AM on May 4, 2017

Like girlmightlive, I had to provide tax forms as "proof" of freelance income when I went through the background check for the job I have now. If they're using a background check service (it sounds like they are) and she already listed it as part of her job history, it's unfortunately past the point of "don't mention it". I'd recommend bringing it up with the hiring manager. (My husband almost failed a background check because the third party agency wasn't able to verify his employment with a company that had been closed for years. He let his boss-to-be know what was happening, his boss was able to push it through. So - probably not an issue for the hiring company, but may cause a hang up with the background-check agency.)
posted by okayokayigive at 10:17 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, thank you. Yes, it seems they are using a background check service. My daughter is telling me she doesn't want to provide the verification as the hours are so spotty.

Could you give suggestions as to how to bring it up to the hiring manager? (Or HR?) Should she forewarn him that the background check for that job might come back with issues? We are both completely unsure of what to do.

Side note - she interviewed with one company, but they are hiring her through a contracting house. The contracting house is doing the background check (through yet another company)
posted by BuddyBoo at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2017

Stop over thinking this! If HR has any questions, they'll let you know. You've been give lots of suggestions if they ask for more info. They want to hire your daughter and unless she's been in prison, most of this can be easily navigated.

Background checks are usually done through a third party company unless your new job requires nuclear codes.
posted by shoesietart at 2:24 PM on May 4, 2017

Should she bring up my situation?

No! (It might have been something to use at the interview if anyone was wondering why she was working only part time, but since they didn't, no, stay away from this and all personal topics!)

I’m assuming that referring to her online teaching as being under the table would be a mistake,

and yet they offered her the job, so it's time to stop worrying about that.

I also don’t know if she should talk about her mental health struggles.

Absolutely not! Not now and not in the future.

What advice would you give her for navigating this situation?

sit back and wait to see what the background company asks her for. They are infinitesimally unlikely to ask for tax docs. If by some chance they want to see proof of the freelance work, they'll tell her what they want to see. Probably invoices. It won't be taxes.

Also it sounds like your daughter is spinning and needs to see her therapist if she has one just to talk her through all this and help her stop the spinning.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:35 PM on May 4, 2017

How many years are a few? Because a lot of people haven't done their taxes. If she's admitted to tutoring, and they ask about her taxes, simply say that you haven't filed yet, and provide whatever proof she does have (create invoices if she needs to). If she didn't tell the company about the tutoring, then I wouldn't mention it at all, and simply say that she didn't have an income for those years, so she didn't file.

Do you need to file taxes anyway where you live, irrelevant of income? Because it would be worth doing that just to get it done and avoid penalties.
posted by kjs4 at 5:33 PM on May 4, 2017

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