Big Business Fights To Preserve Employers' Use Of Background Checks

In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, it's become commonplace for employers to rely on background checks to vet potential employees. But with allegations of employer abuses, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now is weighing whether to limit employers' rights to use background checks to make hiring decisions.

Tens of millions of Americans have criminal records, though by law they can't be denied employment unless the nature of the offense conflicts with job duties. But research by the National Consumer Law Center, an advocacy organization, shows that third-party companies performing background checks routinely fail to accurately interpret and report relevant information.

The NCLC also found many criminal records are riddled with errors. As a result, many workers' advocates are calling for the government to curtail employers' usage, arguing that perfectly qualified, eligible workers are denied jobs simply because of rampant misuse of background checks. And some suggested that people of color are disproportionately hurt by the practice.

In a public meeting today, the EEOC will weigh how to protect job applicants from these abuses, but altering the rules already has met with strong resistance from business and employment groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management, who say the federal government shouldn't further meddle in decisions about whom to hire.

Error-Prone Reports

The National Consumer Law Center, an advocacy organization, has noted the following mistakes in the background screenings:

  • Mismatching the subject of the report with a different individual who has the same or similar name.
  • Revealing sealed or expunged information.
  • Omitting information on how a criminal charge was resolved.
  • Providing misleading information.
  • Mischaracterizing a misdemeanor charge or conviction as a felony.

Moreover, the manner in which background checks are currently performed more adversely affects blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, according to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "A disproportionate number of those with criminal records come from low-income communities of color," Jackson recently wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times column, urging the EEOC to update its guidelines.

Workers' rights advocates also argue that the expansive use of background checks -- some 90 percent of employers use criminal background checks, according to the National Employment Project -- gives employers too much power in making hiring decisions, while denying those with records the opportunity to review such information.

Employers and big business groups, however, see the issue differently. In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal, known for its staunchly pro-business editorial page, said the EEOC would be overstepping its legal bounds if it limited employers' use of background checks.

"A company might use a credit check if a prospective employee would have a job that handles customer monies, for instance. A child-care center might want to know if an applicant has a criminal record. Both help companies make prudent hiring decisions."

What The Law Allows

Under federal law it is illegal for employers to deny employment to applicants based on arrest or conviction records -- including felonies, unless there's a direct correlation between the criminal record and the job being sought. Further, many states have laws that specifically prohibit an employer from asking a job applicant about arrests.

Ironically, the EEOC's effort to further limit companies' use of information obtained in criminal checks may affect its own hiring policies.

Last week, a federal court ruled that the EEOC must answer more questions about its own use of background checks in selecting new employees, Law360.com reports.

The ruling stems from a legal challenge that the agency staked out against Kaplan Higher Education Corp. in which the EEOC alleges that Kaplan unnecessarily relied on credit histories in evaluating black job seekers, to the applicants' detriment.




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David Schepp

Staff Writer

David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.

Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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26 Comments

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Jun and Terry

they should background check their ceos and upper management,but then again some criminals take care of thier own

April 26 2012 at 1:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hcampy

How about the employers? How clean are their personal records? Would they stand up to scrutiny?

April 26 2012 at 12:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hcampy's comment
undrgrndgirl

you said it! i ended up working for a woman who was a sociopath. background checks should be a two way street, if they are going to happen at all.

April 26 2012 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Casey Ellis

I think there should be some restrications,,,on how far they check,,,I got in trouble as a teen, in which my recored was sealed,,,but for some reason,my employer knew about it,,,luckly for me I still got hired.

April 25 2012 at 10:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Casey Ellis's comment
undrgrndgirl

exactly. i have a juvy record (including a felony) that was supposed to be sealed when i turned 18 30 years ago...it has absolutely no bearing on my life now. i haven't had to prove my worthiness by drug test or background check or credit check for that matter and am not looking forward to that day. i don't know what is happening to us as a society. but glad things worked out for you.

April 26 2012 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Coopbbmfic3

looks like we have to hire felons

April 25 2012 at 5:53 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Coopbbmfic3's comment
undrgrndgirl

what if the felony was decades ago?

April 26 2012 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rwa5279

I think employees need to do background checks on big business for crimes like this.

April 25 2012 at 5:04 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
gosoaring10

It's hard enough to get a job without a potential employer having the "right" to see all of a person's life history (sometimes including computer passwords).

If fat cat Republican politicians and their business owner buddies have their way, anyone who has ever sneezed without saying excuse me will be unemployable. Such companies are not deserving of good workers.

April 25 2012 at 3:59 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
foxylynx

Perhaps it should be modified according to level of crime. I would not want to work next to a pedofile or murderer.

April 25 2012 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry

Several states have passed laws making it illegal for an employer to do back ground checks prior to employment

April 25 2012 at 1:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Larry

unemployment will continue out of control as long as employers hold criminal back ground against people many of us are more than willing to work and never break the law ever again givien a chance,,,it`s been over 5 years for me and I still cann`t get work because of back ground checks
I went to prison paid my debt to society I know I did wrong and have learn from my experience,,,But when is society going to allow me to re-enter the working class,,,Or would society rather I start breaking the law again to survive///your prisons are full of reafenders because we can not get jobs and we just like you have bills to pay

April 25 2012 at 1:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mark Lathom

How about we get someone to pay more attention to the errors in the reports and an easier way to get them fixed? Unless everyone's ok with the ineptitude of our current government (Right and Left).

April 25 2012 at 1:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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