In January, Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick signed the Act Relative to Background Checks bill into law. This law now allows the school systems to perform national criminal background checks on employees. Previously, employees were only screened for crimes committed in the state of Massachusetts.
In February, a Boston Herald investigation revealed that a man with two previous drunk driving arrests plus multiple breaking and entering convictions was currently employed to drive a van for a public high school. As a result, the Boston area began performing a sweep of background checks on their current employees. The results have been shocking.
The area has 9,000 school workers, and currently one-third of the background checks have been completed. So far, 11 “support” staff” employees (non-teachers) have been placed on administrative leave due to their criminal records. Some of the employees had a history of serious offenses that included: felony kidnapping, drug possession, assault, and unlawful ammunition possession. Of the eleven staffers with previous offenses, none of them had ever been charged with a sex crime.
Prior to this year, a school review board only turned down job applicants who had been convicted of serious crimes. Now, more consideration is being given to those employees who’ve also been charged with a crime, but had a non-conviction. The panel realized some individuals who made plea deals that resulted in non-convictions should be turned away as well.
Last summer, a supermarket employee in New Jersey walked into his workplace and killed two employees before shooting himself. It was later revealed the gunman had posted this chilling question three years prior on his Twitter account: “Is it normal to want to kill ALL of ur (sic) coworkers?”
In the wake of this tragedy, family members of one of the victims are now lobbying for legislation that would require an employer to review a job applicant’s social media history as part of their background check before hiring them. Aptly named “Cristina’s Law” after 18-year-old victim Cristina Lobrutto, the bill contradicts new legislative proposals by state and federal lawmakers seeking to protect an individual’s right to social media privacy.
This year, thirty-five states currently have legislation pending that would prohibit employers from requesting an applicant’s social media password as a condition for employment. Maryland, California, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois are some of the states that have already passed such laws. Similar legislation also prevents colleges and universities from requesting social media personal information.
Advocates of Cristina’s law argue that if employers had seen the New Jersey shooter’s previous Twitter posts, he never been hired by the supermarket chain. Opponents of the law argue that reading one’s social media history is the equivalent to asking for their personal diary or reading private emails. Lawmakers voting to prohibit social media screenings feel that a basic criminal background check should be sufficient.
So what do you think? Should employers be able to consider social media posts before hiring applicants, or is this a violation of privacy?
A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey found that more than half of respondents to a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey said they don’t use credit checks in the hiring process. That’s an increase from 2010, when 40 percent of organizations reported not using credit background checks. In 2004, 39 percent said they did not use such background checks when hiring.
The survey also found:
Most employers focused on credit histories of two to seven years. Only 6 percent of organizations said that all years of credit history were equally important, a decrease from 17 percent in 2010.
Of the 34 percent of employers that conducted credit checks on selected job candidates, 87 percent did so for positions with financial responsibilities and 42 percent used them for senior executive positions.
More organizations saying that complying with state law requirements was among the primary reasons criminal records checks were done, up from 20 percent in 2010 to 28 percent today.
Fifty-eight percent of organizations allowed job candidates to explain the results of their criminal checks before the decision to hire was made.
The findings suggest employers are becoming more selective on the background check processes they use and are tailoring the vetting process to more acutely select the kind of background information most useful for each individual job description. This comes on the heels of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new guidelines on criminal background checks.
More than a decade after al-Qaeda terrorists who helped carry out the Sept. 11 attacks received flight training in the U.S., a government investigator has found that American officials aren’t doing background checks on all foreigners who apply to flight schools.
An unspecified number of the 25,599 foreigners who applied for U.S. pilot licenses between January 2006 and September 2011 weren’t given background checks by the Transportation Security Administration, said Stephen M. Lord, a director at the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s auditor, in written testimony for a U.S. House panel last week.
Foreigners who weren’t subjected to criminal background checks still received training and a license, Lord said at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on the security gaps. According to Transportation Security Administration rules, foreign nationals looking to get flight training in the U.S. must receive a security threat assessment. That process includes checking applicants’ backgrounds for terrorist and criminal activities and immigration violations.
Mohammad Atta, the lead Sept. 11 hijacker, and some of his accomplices received flight training at U.S. schools. It’s surprising and frightening that so many years after the U.S. was crushed with the single worst terrorist attack, such background check policies would still have such weaknesses.
Last month the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) voted to create new Guidance regarding employer use of criminal records under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Criminal background checks have become increasingly popular as a means for employers to, among other things, lessen the potentially tragic and expensive claims of failure to supervise or negligent hiring.
In the past the EEOC had at least partially disavowed criminal checks except in very limited industries because they were considered to be disproportionately negative for certain minorities.
The new EEOC guidance reiterates the four factors used to determine whether an employer’s hiring and other employment decisions and policies relating to criminal background checks violate the law:
Convictions as opposed to arrests
The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct
Time that has passed since the offense
The nature of the job held or sought.
It also provides specific examples of criminal background policies which the EEOC believes violate Title VII.
The EEOC also suggests employees who undergo criminal background checks should be told that they were denied the job because of a criminal conviction, and that there would have to be an opportunity for that applicant to demonstrate either that the screen was inaccurate or to state why they should not be denied the job. The employer would also have to review any additional information provided by the prospective employee regarding the conviction or their credentials.
Last month three of the largest online dating websites – eHarmony, Match.com, and Spark Networks – along with California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a Joint Statement of Key Principles of Online Dating Site Safety, in which they espoused the importance of background checks on dating website members in an effort to avoid making dating site members vulnerable to sexual predators. The statement also aims to protect online dating website members from identity theft and scams.
Last week the Illinois Senate passed legislation that would require online dating websites that offer services in Illinois to clearly disclose whether or not they conduct criminal background checks on all members. The bill also would make it so online dating sites must disclose whether they admit members who have criminal records, and use government databases, including criminal court records and sex offender registries.
If it passes, those who are found to be in violation of the law could be fined up to $50,000 per violation. The measure, just like the joint statement issued last month, is indicative of a trend in social networking and online dating – where people often get to know each other before they even meet face to face – to take more precautions to make sure members are kept safe.
The New Jersey Education Department gave a reprieve last week to more than 180 school board members and charter-school trustees who faced the loss of their seats over the lack of criminal background checks.
We recently reported that the law, which went into effect in May, required people responsible for deciding local school policies and budgets to undergo background checks by the end of 2011 or be immediately removed from office. Crimes that would bar someone from serving included murder, robbery, luring a child, assault and drug possession or distribution. As 2012 dawned, however, more than 300 board members still hadn’t complied.
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf’s reprieve allows school board members to complete the fingerprinting requirement by Jan. 27 to be eligible to remain on their respective board if they are cleared through the background check process. Background checks will be required from now on for all school board members and charter trustees. School employees have had to get background checks since a law passed in 1986.
Did you know there are different levels to a criminal background check? If you’re using an inexpensive online service that advertises “criminal background checks that are fast and cheap,” chances are you’re getting results that are fast and cheap — and highly incomplete.
There are several levels to a criminal background check, and a reputable employment screening servicewill take the time and resources necessary for a thorough search on every level. At Verify Protect, our background screening services cover the following levels, depending on your criteria and unique needs:
County Criminal: A real-time search for felonies and misdemeanors for a particular county, going back at least seven years.
Statewide Criminal: A statewide search of felonies and misdemeanors as reported by the counties. This may contain wants/warrants from other states as well, but is not available in all states.
Multi-State Criminal Database: An instant search of over 300 million criminal records from hundreds of sources in all 50 states as well as some international records. This also includes sex offender registries with over 3.5 million pictures.
Federal Criminal: A search for crimes prosecuted at the federal level, which can include cases of embezzlement, fraud, drug trafficking and other federal crimes. This covers all 84 U.S. District Courts in one search. (A single district search is also available.)
For awhile now there has been some debate about whether employment screening is discriminatory against some minorities. Attorneys with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have charged that blacks and Latinos are having a harder time finding jobs in the age of pre-employment screening because these minority groups have higher rates of arrests and convictions than whites. Some advocacy groups disagree, including Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research that is a leading voice of the African-American community. But the issue has resulted in much debate and several lawsuits citing workplace discrimination.
Now a recent letter from three members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stands to open the debate further. The letter claims recent studies suggest the use of criminal background checks does not automatically lead to lower hiring rates of minorities. The letter cited a 2006 research paper — “Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers” by Harry Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael Stoll – that analyzed the effect of criminal background checks on the hiring of blacks and found that employers using criminal background checks were more likely to hire black workers, especially men, than those who didn’t have that information. Another study conducted by Stoll found that, in the absence of performing criminal background checks, employers were likely to discriminate using age or race as indicators of past activities.
These studies will no doubt further the debate about this issue. Stay tuned for further developments!
When conducting a background check, it’s easy for an employer to get caught up in every line item of the report. While there’s a wealth of knowledge that can be gathered and reported on a prospective employee, through credit reports, criminal background checks, driving records and more, none of that is ultimately helpful to an employer unless he or she understands how to read an employment screening report.
The key to making wise decisions on prospective employees is to look for patterns of behavior, not necessarily single infractions or one-time issues. For example, if someone has one speeding ticket, it’s not cause for alarm. But if an applicant has 15 unpaid parking tickets, that should raise a red flag. Even though parking tickets are in no way a serious offense, the sheer number of them point to a pattern of behavior for this person that could signal they are careless, disrespectful of rules, or perhaps just generally disorganized. None of those things are what you’d hope or expect your next manager to be.
So when you get that report, go line by line but more importantly, refocus to the bigger picture, using the clues given in the report to piece together the applicant’s personality, work ethic and responsibility level.