Background Search

Controversies Involving Background Searches

The benefits of background checks for employers include efficiency, cost savings, and fewer incidents of violence. Diligent record checking can help indemnify employers from accusations of negligence and identify dishonest applicants. Background checks give employers tools to find the best-qualified candidates and identify people with questionable backgrounds, work histories, or personal tendencies.

However, the investigation process also generates several controversies. Growing criticism about criminal records checks and pre-employment screenings has influenced legislative remedies in some states. The trends of state governments offer contradictory signals at best. Many states limit employment screenings for general employers while increasing the demand for checks of job applicants in sensitive positions. Sensitive jobs include working with children, health care, government work, and financial positions.

The national instant background check system was designed to identify criminals applying for guns, but several high-profile failures make many people question the benefits of yet another layer of bureaucracy.

The system was designed to catch situations such as the Virginia Tech killings. A mentally troubled student was ordered to undergo counseling by a local court. The information should have stopped Seung-Hui Cho from buying weaponry, but it did not.

In Nassau County, New York, Peter Troy eluded the community program monitoring his actions. Two deaths have resulted from poor monitoring of mentally troubled patients by services hard hit for cash resources. Failures of checks to limit problems lead many critics to suggest that these reporting services offer the greatest benefit to their own bottom lines and make life more difficult for average people.

Misinterpretation of Records and Invasions of Privacy

Two issues that concern many citizens include privacy issues and the potential for misinterpretation of background intelligence. Employers, insurance companies, and landlords might easily accord far too much weight to youthful indiscretions that many people make. Records only state the facts but seldom address the reasons why people committed some offenses. Some negative information appearing on people’s records might be perfectly justified.

In 2006, the Red Cross instituted tough background checks to counter criticism of some instances of fraud. These checks included credit checks and mode of living investigations viewed as incredibly intrusive. Many volunteers who had lent their own equipment to facilitate relief efforts resigned in protest and offered their services elsewhere. The Red Cross claims it has ceased these intrusive investigations, but it still includes authorizations for them on applications.

Discrimination Potential

Critics of background checks maintain that reports might contain information that employers cannot legally use in hiring decisions. Age, race, sex, ethnic background, religious practices, and sexual orientation information might influence decision makers directly or subconsciously. Criminal records checks turn up negative information more often for minorities and people from working class backgrounds.

Arrest Records

Arrests records constitute information available to the public. However, arrests often fail to result in convictions. People enjoy the assumption of innocence unless proven guilty by law. Copies of arrest reports could prove prejudicial. California and other states prohibit the use of arrest records in background checks. However, exceptions include arrests that have yet to come to trial. These arrest instances can be reported to employers up until the time a person is found not guilty by a court of law.

Employment Checks and Credit Reports

The most controversial issue about background checks involves employers using credit score information to make hiring decisions. Critics feel this practice discriminates against minorities, invades personal privacy, and has no bearing on the ability of workers to perform their duties. Employers argue that strapped employees could cause financial risks to businesses or their customers.

Like most controversies, solid evidence backs both positions. Employer credit checks could violate legal protections that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guarantees. California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Oregon have passed laws within the past few months that affect employers’ abilities to order background checks.

California Assembly Bill 22 prohibits employers from using credit reports in most hiring decisions. The law also requires employers to inform applicants which reporting agency they use and furnish the internet address. Congress is considering a national fix. The Equal Employment Act For All bill would address which companies might legally require credit reports for hiring purposes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) imposes limits on employers by federal statute. States can make these laws stricter, but they cannot undermine the basic consumer protections.

Consumers have the right to view reports with negative information and request changes if inaccuracies appear. This information must be investigated and changed if proven incorrect about material facts.