A report issued by the National Consumer Law Center on Wednesday showed that errors are routinely made in criminal background checks for prospective employees. These errors have falsely kept many from being hired.
Practice booms after 911
Since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, contends the report, the practice of conducting criminal background checks on prospective employees has boomed in the U.S. That trend had spawned an industry of online enterprises that use public record databases to scan for red flags.
According to a 2010 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, about 93 percent of employers conduct background screenings on at least some applicants. Seventy-three screen all job applicants.
Reports often inaccurate, study says
But are these background reports always accurate? Persis Yu, attorney and co-author of “Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses,” a report from the National Consumer Law Center report, says no.
“Background screening companies routinely cut corners to improve their profits and then they wipe their hands of any responsibility for producing an inaccurate or misleading report that can cost a worker his or her job.”
The report cites one example of a man named Samuel L. Jackson — not the Hollywood actor — whose background check confused him with yet another Samuel L. Jackson who was convicted of rape in 1987. The Jackson being investigated was denied employment, even though he was only 4 years old in 1987.
Information often not updated
Examples like the above, says the report, are common. Even if the prospective employee being investigated is not confused with a namesake criminal, often the reports contain information that has been expunged from criminal records, or is presented with no notation that a dispute was settled in the job-seeker’s favor.
Call for stiffer regulation
In its conclusion, the report entreats the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to draft regulations ensuring the accuracy of criminal background checks, as well as giving consumers a forum for complaints should they dispute the findings of a background reporting company.
“Federal regulatory agencies and states should rein in the Wild West of the background screening industry by holding companies accountable.”
The report also asks the federal Trade Commission to look into background checking companies to determine whether they are violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which protects consumers from errors in their credit score reports.