NASA vs. Nelson: The National Case for Background Checks?

It’s been in the news recently, but, if you haven’t heard, NASA employees have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court with their case over background checks. But, according to the linked article, these screenings didn’t appear to be a basic check that investigates your criminal history. Rather, they were more like a probe into a person’s lifestyle, involving interviews with friends and family and even inquiries about finances. These employees, 28 ranging from scientists and engineers to administrative workers, find that these screenings done by NASA are too invasive, so much that they violate their Fourth Amendment rights to privacy.

According to the article, NASA’s contract with Caltech requires all employees that enter the facility to have their backgrounds checked – although what is being checked and how it’s done isn’t specified. By judging the statements in the article, these screenings do not appear to be ordinary background checks. At the moment, however, no national law exists that specifies what can be checked and what can’t by a background check company. The EEOC, as we’ve seen in previous posts, has mentioned that background checks should be relevant to the position at hand. But, what does this mean?

Typically, as we saw in the previous post, the EEOC is referring to investigating a candidate’s or employee’s financial history when the position doesn’t involve any such skills. Doing a credit check, for example, may be appropriate for financial sector or executive-level positions, but is it necessary for a person to be an administrative assistant at a publishing house or a human resources representative at NASA? In most cases, no, assuming you don’t think a credit score and financial history mirror a person’s work ethic. In any case, no matter the outcome of NASA vs. Nelson, this trial will be the first to address background checks on a national level.