Employee background checks is a routine part of any screening process prior to employment. The aim behind these checks is to give employers the peace of mind that they are employing upstanding citizens, with no criminal record.
There has been mounting pressure by state legislators for the inclusion of federal and state fingerprint checking as part of employment screening. But though such a move will provide a different angle to screening if approved, it also presents some serious problems. SterlingBackcheck, a New York-based employee screening company, conducted a study on the shortcomings of fingerprint background checks and the need to use more comprehensive screening procedures. The following are some points that stand out in the report:
State and FBI databases have low standards
FBI Databases omit case outcomes. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that at least 600,000 workers are prejudiced by the FBI’s omission of case outcomes from their files. A case could have been dismissed or expunged but since such information is omitted from arrest records, the employer will make an ill-informed decision not to hire. In some states, it’s not mandatory to submit records of the final outcome in criminal cases, thus the FBI database has only about half of all case outcome information.
State databases are incomplete. According to a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office, only 20 states have databases that are 75% to 100% complete. The rest are either below 75% or 50% complete, with 7 states reporting that they didn’t even have data.
Databases are not updated regularly. Update schedules are irregular, leading to records that are outdated by weeks or even months.
Databases contain information forbidden by EEOC. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides that hiring decisions should disregard arrests without convictions. But state and federal databases include these arrests in their records.
Missing fingerprints. There are also instances where fingerprints are not taken during arrests and where convictions are also missing from databases. For instance, in 2015, the Columbus dispatch conducted an investigation that showed convictions were missing from the Ohio state database.
Job applicants cannot challenge FBI reports. Background checks regulated by some state laws and by the Fair Credit Reporting Act afford job applicants certain rights, such as the right to challenge any information that comes up against them in the screening process. These protections are not available when FBI reports are used for screening.
Way forward for employee background checks
Failure to conduct thorough and accurate background checks could land employers into trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The office of the AG recommends county courthouses, public databases and commercial databases as far more reliable sources of complete and updated background information. Consumer reporting agencies use multiple sources to compile a candidate’s background. In addition to using criminal records, these agencies also include driving records and verification of education and professional background.
Employers have certain obligations when performing background checks through screening firms:
• They have to inform the applicant of the intention to conduct a background check.
• The applicant must give written permission for the check to be conducted.
• Employers must share the results with the applicant. The applicant should also be notified about his/her rights if a decision is reached based on the criminal record.
• Applicants must be notified if something in the records prevents them from getting employed. They should also be given a chance to dispute the report.