Employers Often Receive Flawed Information In Criminal Background Screens, Report Says

With an emphasis on practical strategies to improve productivity and performance, and limit potential liabilities, Bulletin to Management™ concisely analyzes new developments in employment and human resources management.

By Kevin P. McGowan  


Companies that conduct criminal background searches for employers on job applicants and current employees often provide inaccurate or incomplete data that harms both workers and employers paying for such background screens, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) said in a report released April 11.

In a report titled Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses, NCLC said it is “a matter of public debate” whether third-party criminal background checks should be used for employment screening.

“However, there is little debate that if these records are to be used, they must be accurate,” NCLC said in the report.

Although the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires background checking agencies to maintain procedures to ensure the accuracy of information reported about a consumer, the FCRA “as currently interpreted and enforced, fails to adequately protect consumers when it comes to employment screening,” NCLC said. “Even applicants who successfully remove errors from their background checks are frequently denied employment.”

NCLC issued its report at a time when more employers say they are conducting criminal background screens and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is considering an update to existing EEOC enforcement guidance on potential discrimination resulting from employers' use of arrest and conviction records (63 BTM 89, 3/20/12).

NCLC described several ways in which professional background screening companies err when sifting through criminal databases and in reporting results to employers.

NCLC said the most common mistakes include: 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; and mischaracterizing a misdemeanor charge or conviction as a felony.

By Kevin P. McGowan