Background Checks: Give People a Second Chance

On every application for employment, there is always a section that asks about whether or not a person has ever had an felony charges against them, and to explain what they were if so. Despite the fact that employers are not “supposed” to discriminate against a candidate based on something like felony charges, there is no real way to qualify whether or not such discriminatory practices were exhibited in the candidate selection process. I would think it stands to reason that most employers will take one look at that box checked “yes” and move that application to the “no” pile.

And this is only one question. Nowadays, most professional and corporate employers will conduct background checks on job candidates. This can be a problem for a person who has made mistakes in their life but has changed their behaviors and is looking for honest employment, and this is why the practice of running full background checks is basically set up to continually punish those who have made mistakes in the past. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, many “negative” records are expunged from employer background checks after 7 years under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

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This includes arrests over 7 years ago, criminal records compiled by law enforcement agencies, and bankruptcies over 10 years old. However, much of this is public record, and though a standard background check might not yield this information, there are plenty of private information brokers on the web that will track it down, and this information is often not verified by the broker (such as charges being dropped against a person who was arrested—the broker might report only the arrest). As Crane notes in “The ABCs of Pre-Employment Background Checks”: “Unfortunately, there is a lot of inaccurate information out there.
Just like the mistakes that may pop up on your credit report, bad data can turn up in the course of a background check. And this wrong information can cost you a job. ” Not only is there a stunning lack of privacy in this age of electronics, there is also no guarantee that the information being reported is accurate, which causes immediate problems for the individual applying for the job. Also, despite the fact that, for example, arrests made over 7 years ago are not supposed to be reported in a background check, there is nothing stopping the employer from asking, “Have you ever been arrested?
”, a question which acts as a double-edged sword for someone who had been arrested several years before. In the cases of individuals who might have something in their past that they’re not proud of, information that can cost them their fair opportunity for employment is readily available to potential employers, even if it the FCRA specifically rules against it. Because of these Internet-based information brokers, there is no guarantee that information that shouldn’t be reported isn’t still getting into the hands of the employer, and this is information that creates an inherent bias against the candidate in the employer’s mind.
Information about long-ago prior arrests, fiscal irresponsibility in the form of previous bankruptcies, and criminal records which are not part of the public domain are easily acquired in a background check, and potential employers use this information as a major strike against the candidate. There is plenty of other information that is legitimately acquired in the course of a background check that can be detrimental to the perceived character of the person applying for the job.
Information such as driving records, credit reports, interviews with neighbors and former employers, medical records, court records, and drug test records (just to name a few) are all standard-practice as part of an employer background check. Checking the box that authorizes an employer to conduct a background check opens a door into a person’s past in ways they might not have initially considered and affecting their chances at employment in ways they might not even conceive.
It is understandable that in the wake of 9/11 and as a result of a recent surge in lawsuits due to negligent hiring practices (in which an employee caused harm to others), employers are practicing greater caution in their hiring practices. But by going as full-throttle as they are with the extensive amount of information being made available to them, they are essentially weeding out candidates who are talented, qualified, and educated but who have a spot on their records which leads to automatic disqualification of consideration by potential employers.
People deserve to have a second chance in life, especially when they have taken all of the steps necessary to better themselves. It is grossly unjust that a prior arrest or criminal charge, especially one that isn’t even supposed to be part of a standard background check, would follow a person for the rest of their working lives, making it impossible for them to work in a professional field (especially when the rules as set by the FCRA are moot in cases involving government positions or positions that pay $75,000 per year or more).
Let’s say a person, Joe Doe, has an old petty larceny charge, which many states consider a misdemeanor, but then loses a potential job offer because of it. The system is set up to continually punish those who have made mistakes in their past. In the above example of the felony charge check box (and a “felony” can be as simple as extorting $2,000 or being caught urinating in public), there is no way to avoid checking “yes” when the proceeding background check will show all of the related information, and act as an automatic disqualification for a person’s employment.
When background checks are so pervasive and INVASIVE, what other options or opportunities does a person have left? This is why the system needs to be changed, and tighter restrictions need to be placed on what information is made available to the public. No record older than 7 years—criminal, felony, bankruptcy, or otherwise—should be made available for anyone to see.
Only in the cases of serious potential endangerment (such as the higher-level sex offenders) should records older than 7 years be made public; otherwise people are being continually punished for old mistakes that they have more than rectified by paying their dues (either with community service, probation, monetary repayment, etc. ). It isn’t just that a person shouldn’t lose an opportunity due to long-ago mistakes; the reality is that employers WILL and DO discriminate based on that.
In order for people to have the second chance they deserve, the restrictions on background checks and public records need to be tightened, to protect people who are trying to rehabilitate themselves. Otherwise, there is no rehabilitation to be had because the chance is never really given. References Crane, Amy B. “The ABCs of Pre-Employment Background Checks. ” Online. Available: www. bankrate. com Fair Credit Reporting Act. Online. Available: www. ftc. gov Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Online. Available: www. privacyrights. org

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