When It Comes to Background Checks, How Far Can Employers Go?

Roughly over a month ago, the EEOC revised and clarified its recommendations and standards for background checks. Yet, as NPR pointed out this week, even the new standards don’t pose enough limits on employers. The potential results are companies delving too far into a search, potential employees being excluded from too many opportunities, and criminal screenings being applied as a blanket measure.

About 90 percent of hiring employers conduct background checks to some extent, but as we have pointed out in the past, not all screenings are equal. Those for “care” professions, such as daycare and nursing home work, often involve more involved screening, including FBI criminal background checks. Similarly, positions involving a high degree of authority or money handling frequently involve credit report checks. But, beyond these, social media is an increasing factor in getting a full picture of a candidate’s password, and employers, prior to conducting screenings, are requesting applicants hand over usernames and passwords.

Credit, as NPR also points out, is another divisive subject. In the past, an individual’s credit history mirrored character: those unable to manage their finances were frequently less trustworthy and organized on the job. Yet, the economy has caused good employees to be laid off, resulting in lack of financial stability, and credit report checks can penalize good workers, blocking them from meaningful employment. Judy Conti, who lobbies for the National Employment Law Center, told NPR: “The fact of the matter is that there aren’t tremendous privacy protections for job applicants and employees in this country. Background checks are a very big issue, even though they often bear no relation to the job you do.”

So, with these issues coming to light, what’s an employee or employer to do? Using the recent EEOC revised guidelines for reference, employers ought to examine each candidate’s history on a case-by-case basis and do a cursory review of social media; asking for passwords is too invasive, but checking the virtual face a candidate projects to the world isn’t. Criminal charges and credit blemishes, as well, should be evaluated in relation to the job duties performed – not used for outright rejecting a candidate. Meanwhile, applicants must be fully aware of their background; be prepared to explain any marks, such as questionable financial history, criminal charges, or employment gaps; and always be honest on an application.