Nationwide Background Check

Nationwide Trends in Background Checks

Background checks have become extraordinarily common. Private individuals investigate their neighbors, love interests, and business associates. Employers order background screenings to reduce their risk of negligence lawsuits, address violence in the workplace, limit the number of dishonest employees, and identify the most qualified candidates for jobs.

Government Exhibits Mixed Reactions

The state and federal governments follow conflicting policies regulating the industry. On one hand, governments extol the benefits that background checks bring for weeding out sexual predators and scam artists from working directly with children, elderly people, or disabled individuals. Governments endorse the use of credit reports to determine the fitness of government employees, financial industry managers and consultants, and people with access to security clearances or confidential information.

Many states take the view that mandatory screening reduces employer liability for negligence claims. Reports of people with criminal records in sensitive positions committing unspeakable crimes ignite media frenzies. Many states require certain employers to screen employees to increase workplace safety, reduce adverse media attention, and protect businesses from negligence claims.

Many state governments and federal agencies offer criticism of background reports. These bodies cite the potential for discrimination in criminal background checks because minorities often have higher arrest rates than white citizens. Poor people also face more frequent prosecutions than wealthy defendants. Another source of criticism centers on the fairness issue. Many people commit youthful indiscretions but clean up their acts as they grow older.

Credit Report Use in Hiring Decisions Generates Controversy

The most controversial issue today regarding background checks focuses on the practice of using credit reports to make hiring decisions. Critics contend the practice has no bearing on employment qualifications, discriminates against the poor and minorities, and places unfair barriers to economic advancement.

Justice Department reports show that 3,408 out of each 100,000 black males serve jail time, compared to 417 white males. African Americans comprise 13% of the New Jersey population, but they go to jail 13 times more frequently, according to The Employers Association of New Jersey.

Several U.S. states have addressed this issue by passing recent legislation to limit the use of credit reports for hiring purposes. Maryland, Illinois, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut, and California currently restrict some employers from using credit reports. California makes the latest addition to the growing list. Assembly Bill 22 became law on January 1, 2012. Other states are considering similar legislation.

The Social Media Trend

Background checks have begun to include information from social media websites on their reports, which generates a great deal of controversy. The trend of using social media resources presents employers with something of Catch-22 situation. Social media blogs could raise red flag issues about personal habits and attitudes. If employers ignore these reports, then they could face negligence charges.

Employment denials on the basis of published material could also bear on the rights of free speech, a constitutional guarantee. Discrimination and accuracy issues also come into play. If people can lie and exaggerate on their resumes, then surely they might do so in an online forum. People routinely attempt to create controversy on blogs to draw greater numbers of hits to their sites.

Perils and Benefits of Automation

The fast pace of business and marketing means that many employers choose instant background-check options. Employers demand faster and less expensive screening choices, especially since they order screens for almost every new hire. Unfortunately, these quick checks often produce inaccurate results.

Unqualified internet companies often just regurgitate information that anyone could access freely online. Many public records and resources offer free access to the public, including criminal records checks, court cases, real estate transactions, sexual predator locations, and other public information.

Automation often passes along information without any human checking for accuracy. This practice leads to outdated information, cases of mistaken identity, and passing along records created by identity thieves.

The Lawsuit Trend

Employers get hit from all sides. People injured by unqualified workers or employees with criminal records often sue employers for negligence. Courts support the precept that employers bear responsibility not only for what they know about their employees but also for what they should know. Some states have acted to limit employer liability in negligence suits if they practice due diligence and screen job applicants carefully.

Job applicants could sue for invasion of privacy, discrimination, civil rights violations, or violation of freedom-of-speech rights. Future government action might address the situation by standardizing background-check procedures for employment.