Report on How Errors in Criminal Background Checks Hurt Workers

This month, the National Consumer Law Center issued a report on problems with companies that offer criminal background checks to employers. Over 90% of employers now run such checks on some employees and 73% run checks on all potential employees. The Internet has facilitated the means by which hundreds of companies offer criminal background checks using data purchased from cities, counties and states. One company’s website brags it has 345 million criminal records available. About sixty-five million adults in the US have some sort of criminal record.

The number one problem is that the data often has incorrect information leading to applicants unfairly being denied jobs. The report gives the example of a Samuel M. Jackson who was denied employment after a prospective employer ran an InfoTrack background check. InfoTrack reported a rape conviction from 1987—when Mr. Jackson was four years old. The rape conviction actually belonged to fifty-eight-year-old male named Samuel L. Jackson from Virginia, who was convicted of rape in November 18, 1987.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires background checking agencies to maintain procedures to ensure the accuracy of information they report about consumer. Unfortunately, the FCRA is not being very well enforced as against background screening companies. The companies continue to routinely make mistakes with grave consequences for job seekers.

Here are some of the errors the background companies make:

  • • Mismatch the applicant with another person;
  • • Report sealed or expunged information;
  • • Omit information how the case was resolved;
  • • Include misleading information; and
  • • Exaggerate the seriousness of the offenses reported.

One reason for so many errors is that the companies buy the data in bulk form and then fail to verify or update the information. Another is they use unsophisticated matching criteria. Yet another is they fail to use all available information to prevent a false positive match.

Persons who were denied employment because of errors in background checks have remedies under California and federal laws. California has one of the better laws to protect consumers. The laws provide for damages and attorney’s fees.


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