The Unregulated World of Job Applicant Background Checks

Monday, May 26, 2014
(graphic: New Straits Times)

Background checks have become commonplace in hiring situations. It might be that you think you’ve got nothing to fear from an investigation—you know your history and it’s clean. But shoddy work by investigators can still knock you out of a job.


Take the case of Kevin A. Jones. According to Dan Fleshler of Quartz, Jones was about to get a job as a doorman and porter. The employer, Halsted Management, contracted with Sterling Infosystems to do an investigation on Jones. It found records of a Kevin M. Jones, who had at least three criminal convictions. Halsted withdrew the offer before Kevin A. Jones could correct the mistake.


Jones is now suing Sterling and Halsted. The suit, filed by Legal Action Center and Francis & Mailman, a Philadelphia law firm that specializes in consumer protection litigation, said the Jones mishap is part of a pattern in which Sterling “grossly and recklessly” sells information that it has failed to verify or is based on incomplete or false records, according to the New York Law Journal.


This wasn’t an isolated error. The background check industry is unregulated in the United States. A report (pdf) by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) shows that screening companies often mismatch people with records, fail to report crucial information about a case (such as when someone is arrested but found not guilty), access information that was supposed to be expunged from records and other errors.


It’s not like that everywhere. “Particularly in the European Union and increasingly across the developing world, a job applicant’s right to privacy trumps an employer’s right to collect information about a potential employee,” according to Workplace Management.


The NCLC recommends that state and federal agencies exert tighter control over investigative companies. Currently, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) promotes accreditation, but the NCLC reports that only 21 of 2,137 companies in the NAPBS database are accredited.


It isn’t only private employers who rely on screening firms. Aaron Alexis, who was the shooter in the Washington Navy Yard, was vetted by USIS, a private firm contracted to do screens on federal contractors. Another person given a clean bill by USIS: Edward Snowden.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

You Should Fear Background Checks Even If You’ve Done Nothing Wrong (by Dan Fleshler, Quartz)

Suit Alleges Background-Check Agency Mistakes (by John Caher, New York Law Journal)

Does Privatization of Federal Employee Background Checks Lead to More Security Breaches? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses (National Consumer Law Center)


Peter Wadsworth 2 years ago
This article is widely inaccurate, as both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Fair Credit Reporting Act govern the consumer reporting industry, and impose very tight guidelines as to what background screening companies can and cannot do. Had the company hiring this employee followed the regulations and adverse action process as required, this case wouldn't exist. Employers need to carefully consider whom they are hiring to handle employment screening for their business, as many are not up to par with best practices.
Michael Adams 2 years ago
Unreglated, my ass. This is one of the most careless, least researched articles I have ever read. How do you come to your conclusions? Every year there are more and more rules, laws and yes, regulations telling background check companies how to do their job.
Matthew Jancosek 2 years ago
This is why KENTECH Inc has employees to double check the reports before we send them out to employees. We are seeing more stories on how the background checks are done haphazardly and costing people their opportunity to become employed. We always suggest to people that sometimes instant background checks are really not that great and can give you false information, and some of the companies that offer the "FREE" background checks or "Cheap Solutions" to companies are not necessarily connected to any databases. They have their own database that is updated periodically and are not accurate. You get what you pay for - sometimes it is better to pay.

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