Broken Records: How Criminal Background Check Companies Get it Wrong and Ruin Lives
Date:  08-16-2012

Growing background check industry is responsible for giving false information to employers
Reentry Central has posted articles on the serious problems of sloppy, or unscrupulous, work done by the plethora of companies that have sprung up in an effort to make a profit off of the criminal histories of potential employees. An employer has the right to know if a job applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. But what happens when the employer pays a company to run a criminal background check and the information provided is false, or comes from documents that were ordered by the court to be sealed? The obvious answer is that the job applicant does not get hired.

In order to combat this growing problem, several states have enacted legislation to ensure job seekers with a criminal record are treated more fairly by companies that provide criminal back ground checks to employers. A Sentencing Project report posted by Reentry Central on December 2, 2011 shows:

  • Two states (California and Delaware) promoted the rights of workers by, respectively, ensuring certain workers subject to criminal background checks have the right to appeal inaccurate records and by expanding the accessibility of waiving a disqualifying offense.

  • Thirteen states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah), recognizing that old, minor offenses can plague job seekers years later, took steps to allow the expungement and sealing of a number of records of low-level convictions.

    Now another report, Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses from The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), delves further into the issue and reveals the negative impact inaccurate information can have on job seekers, businesses and the economy.

    Highlights taken from the report, which can be read by clicking on the link at the end of this article, include allegations that criminal background check companies have been found to:

  • Mismatch the subject of the report with another person

  • Reveal sealed or expunged information

  • Omit information about how the case was disposed or resolved

  • Contain misleading information

  • Mischaracterize the seriousness of the offense reported

    The report also maintains that certain practices employed by the companies are responsible for providing inaccurate information:

  • Obtaining information through purchase of bulk records, but then failing to routinely update the database

  • Failing to verify information obtained through subcontractors and other faulty sources

  • Utilizing unsophisticated matching criteria

  • Failing to utilize all available information to prevent a false positive match

  • Lack of understanding about state specific criminal justice procedures

    The National Consumer Law Center offers the following recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in order to use its power under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to:

  • Require mandatory measures to ensure greater accuracy

  • Define how long an employer has to wait in between sending an initial notice and taking an adverse action, i.e., rejecting an applicant or terminating an employee

  • Require registration of consumer reporting agencies

    NCLC also ask that the Federal Trade Commission to act on FCRA authority to:

  • Investigate major commercial background screening companies for common FCRA violations

  • Investigate major, nationwide employers for compliance with FCRA requirements imposed on users of consumer reports for employment purposes.

    The NCLC calls on states to:

    Require companies that have subscriptions to receive information by bulk dissemination from court databases to have some procedure for ensuring that sealed and expunged records are promptly deleted and ensure that dispositions are promptly reported.
  • Click here to read more.