Linda Kinter, Outsourced Consulting Services
Recent news has raised concerns about the legality of background checks, from employers requesting social media passwords, prompting congressional legislation, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cracking down on employers who rely on arrest records when screening applicants. The EEOC is also pursuing lawsuits against employers and background agencies who do not verify the identity of an applicant when they conduct criminal background checks.
It’s no surprise that member organizations have been asking if it’s still legal to do background checks, what type of checks are appropriate, and what the most effective manner of investigating an applicant’s background is. The answer to the first question is yes, it is still legal to conduct background checks, but there are laws that must be followed to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations.
MSEC conducts third party background checks and, in order to do so, we must first insist that applicants receive a signed notice and authorization allowing the employer to conduct a background screening. We also inform members that we are only allowed to gather information that is legal. For example, we cannot collect medical information or, nor can I supply information about an applicant’s workers’ compensation history. When criminal background checks are conducted, we’re careful to verify the person’s identity – we do not rely on electronic databases, but instead utilize a primary court search.
We often help employers determine what information is going to be the most useful. First, we steer members toward information that is job-related. In many positions, especially those serving a vulnerable population, it is important to know if the applicant has a criminal record of convictions, how serious the convictions are, and how long ago they occurred. This might be recommended not only for paid positions, but also for volunteer positions, and more and more members are conducting screening on volunteers.
Finally, employers recognize that the short-term cost of a pre-employment screen may result in a long-term savings if the employer hires the right person for the job. In fact, more of our members are asking for more in-depth screens when filling professional or high-level positions.