Employment Background Screening

Employment Background Checks: An Employer’s Perspective

Conducting background checks on potential and current employees has become a standard procedure throughout the business world. From large corporations to small business, vetting the staff has become necessary to uncover fraudulent applicant information, financial risk, unreported criminal history and other crucial factors.

According to a study conducted by the ADP’s Screening and Selection Services, 41% of applicants who received educational, employment, and credential checks provided information that failed to match what the source reported. Whether it’s why they left a job or where they went to school, far too many of us are misleading our employers to get or keep our jobs.

This practice of providing misleading information forces employers to rely heavily on background checks. They have to protect themselves from potentially threatening elements. They’re obligated to consider the face of the company and how their employees are projected to clients and the public, ultimately creating the company’s image. Falsified credentials or a criminal past are among many hindrances that could damage a company’s reputation in its industry and with the general public. Bad hiring decisions are a huge can of worms and will always be a threat. This has to be considered when hiring, promoting or keeping an employee.

An employer has to be careful. While they can be criticized for background checks, far too many of them are held responsible when screening fails, as when we hear stories of sexual predators being hired in situations of child care.

Unfortunately, background checks are a landmine. Even the most carefully, fairly constructed report used to factually determine an applicant’s suitability for a position can be called out as discriminatory, which is the first and last thing it’s supposed to be. Despite strict guidelines for background screening set up by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), there are arguments that these reports are being used by employers to discard applicants and employees without regard to their civil rights and possibly ignoring the most pertinent piece of information of all: what’s been uncovered has nothing to do with the fact they can do — or have been doing — the job.

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has been front and center, monitoring and scrutinizing the entire screening process. This has led to a large number of lawsuits and unwanted media exposure, which of course can generate unnecessary attention from the likes of Congress and the state legislature. The EEOC’s involvement stems from the disparate impact background checks may have on minorities. They note that since, nationally, Hispanics and African Americans are arrested in far greater numbers, a candidate of color with any sort of arrest in their history could be disproportionately hurt by a background screening.

Employers definitely need to walk the line between actual public safety and image and liability concerns. Barring an applicant for having an arrest record is a risk, if it is used without moderation. The EEOC has actually forced changes in employment policies that include blanket exclusions of persons with arrest records. It still allows not hiring based on specific conduct in connection with the arrest, but the arrest itself cannot be the reason.

In 2001, California, among several other states, broadened the scope behind background checks. Before this, general access to these reports for consumers was difficult, mostly not allowed at all. That meant a person wouldn’t even know what information was in them and how it was used to hurt their employment opportunities. These states with the new regulations, in essence, gave the consumer the right to see and, in some cases, respond to, their reports.

Employers are still in a precarious position. Even if a person sees their report, any number of these individuals is likely to insist the information contained therein is being used against them unfairly. Again, we’re back to lawyers, court fees and unwarranted scrutinizing.

An employer’s best defense has always been, and will continue to be, ensuring they follow guidelines set up and regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). They cover reports generated by consumer reporting agencies and any resource used to compile them, including private investigators, investigative agencies and background check vendors that perform background checks and investigative consumer reports.

Required or not, background checks are in the best interest of employers. As long as these screenings are performed in compliance with state and federal laws and with the utmost respect to the applicant or employee, an employer should not fear liability.