Sat, Jul 14, 2018 - Page 9 News List

US firms prepare for rolling background checks

Employment lawyer Jon Hyman said companies might worry that they do not really know who is working for them, with the #MeToo movement playing a role in the concerns

By Michael Sasso and Jeff Green  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Tania Chou

Jay Cradeur takes pride in his 4.9 driver rating on Uber Technologies Inc’s five-star scale and the almost 19,000 rides he has given in the capital of ride sharing, San Francisco. So he was puzzled — and more than a little annoyed — when Uber kicked him off its platform in December last year.

Little did he know that he had fallen victim to a growing practice among US employers: regular background checks of existing workers in addition to the routine pre-employment screening.

Uber’s post-hiring check had thrown up a red flag on Cradeur, an issue that took six weeks to resolve and which the company later attributed to a “technical error.”

The number of companies constantly monitoring employees is not known, but the screening industry itself has seen explosive growth in recent years. Membership in the US non-profit National Association of Professional Background Screeners more than quadrupled to 917 last year from 195 members when it was formed in 2003, said Scott Hall, the organization’s chairman and also chief operating officer of the screening company, FirstPoint.

“I think the concern is coming from a fear that either something was missed the first time around or a fear of: ‘Really do we know who’s working for us?’” said Jon Hyman, a Cleveland employment lawyer who has seen a pick-up in calls from manufacturers in the past six months inquiring about continuous checks.

“I think the MeToo movement plays into this, too, because they wonder: ‘Do we have people who might have the potential to harass?’” Hyman said.

Companies are trying to balance privacy concerns with mounting pressure to do a better job in rooting out workers who might steal, harass or even commit violent acts in the workplace. Some high-profile incidents among Uber drivers are helping spook employers into taking action, including an Uber Eats driver in Atlanta who allegedly shot and killed a customer in February.

Healthcare and financial-service workers have gone through extra screening for years, but the practice of running periodic checks or continuous checks is spreading to other sectors, including manufacturing and retailing, within the past six to 12 months, said Tim Gordon, senior vice president of InfoMart Inc, a background-screening company.

“We’re seeing it among some of our large retailers adopting criminal monitoring,” said Ranjeev Teelock, general manager of biometric solutions for screener First Advantage Corp, declining to reveal names because of confidentiality agreements.

The company does about 55 million background checks of various types each year.

“They are hourly workers often, but they also have access to cash,” Teelock said.

Continuous background checks are easier to do now because more police departments and court systems are online, meaning that exponentially more data is available, and the technology to gather and analyze the data is much more sophisticated, Hall said.

As recently as a decade ago, much of the information was on paper, and continuously monitoring was not even possible, he said.

Governments recently adopting such programs include Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which moved last year to continuous screening of its employees after previously doing checks every two years.

The Chicago public-school system was stung last month by a Chicago Tribune expose on sexual abuse in schools and is responding by rechecking the backgrounds of 45,000 employees and thousands more vendors and volunteers by this fall.

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