More and more employers are using employment background checks to screen applicants in order to minimize potential legal and financial exposures. Rising concerns of workplace violence, negligent-hiring and wrongful termination lawsuits, and other problems are forcing many employers to make well informed hiring decisions.
There are advantages for the employer including saving time and money, they would have spent in recruiting, hiring and training the “Wrong” candidate. They can also eliminate potential difficulties and conflicts in the workplace.
Advantages for employees who work for a company that requires employment backgrounds include the fact that employers typically screen for criminal records, including those related to violent crimes and dishonesty. Also, in knowing that an effort has been made to verify that co-workers have the qualifications and credentials they say they do.
Employment backgrounds are not law enforcement or government type investigations. In general, background screening companies look for “red flags” indicating potential problems on resumes and applications such as false or omitted information. And although employment backgrounds can cause an uneasy feeling for applicants, and make them feel like they are being put under the microscope, the truth is that employment backgrounds on applicants can benefit both employers and employees. Beside, today applicants have a great deal of legal protection especially with the recent changes in the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
New legal rights have been afforded to applicants recently to ensure the accuracy and fairness of the process. Effective September 30, 2004 Congress amended the FCRA to allow consumers to know exactly what is going on and to assert their rights in case of errors. An applicant’s rights are listed in detail on the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov.
Under the FCRA, when an employer uses an employment background screening firm to procure a report they must take several steps:
- The employer must clearly disclose to the applicant on a separate document, (Disclosure and Authorization Form), that a report will be prepared and what agency will be preparing it. This disclosure can not be buried in an applications “fine print”.
- If an employer intends to deny employment based in whole or in part upon information in the report, the job applicant must receive a copy of the report and a notice of legal rights. (Adverse Action Notice)
- If an applicant believes the information reported is in accurate, the applicant can inform the screening agency, which must remove or correct inaccurate or unverified information, usually within 30 days.
- Applicants have the right to inspect their files.
The law is designed to strike a balance between an employer’s need to exercise due diligence in hiring and an applicant’s right of accuracy and privacy. For applicants who are genuinely the victims of mistaken identity or bureaucratic errors, there is an opportunity to know what is being said about them and to fix the record so they are not unfairly denied opportunities in the future.
For an applicant, honesty is always the best policy. Although, negative information honestly disclosed in an interview with an explanation may have no effect. If the employer discovers negative information through a third party, then the lack of honesty may be the reason for not getting the job.
Even criminal convictions cannot legally automatically disqualify a applicant from employment, without considering the nature of the offense, when it occurred, what the applicant has done since and whether it is related to job performance.