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

Periodic screening will follow, spokeswoman Emily Bolton said.

The Chicago Teachers Union supports the idea, but is concerned that administrators could use the results to punish members who might show up in a background check for their involvement in things like civil protests, union spokesman Chris Geovanis said.

Employment lawyers and worker advocates are urging caution because of the inevitability that erroneous information will show up in periodic checks, and stressing that previous crimes do not always predict future bad behavior.

“If you’re doing continuous monitoring and you’re putting all this information in the hands of some HR person who doesn’t know where it came from, hasn’t been trained on what it means, they just see some scary words on a piece of paper that can have life-altering consequences for people for no good reason,” said E. Michelle Drake, who heads up the credit reporting and background checks practice at the law firm Berger & Montague PC.

The US Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs how and when companies conduct background checks, requires employee consent, and if a company plans to discipline or fire a worker based on the findings, it must give the employee an opportunity to review the data for errors or explain any mitigating circumstances.

“There is a bit of a catch-22,” said Jonathan Segal, managing principal at the Duane Morris Institute, the education unit of the employment group that provides training to company human resources executives and in-house counsel.

“There are legal risks in doing background checks, but there also can be negligent-hire risks in not doing them,” Segal said. “So what most employers do is they look at a balance, and they need to figure out where the balance is. Theoretically you could be checking every employee every week, and still miss something.”

Uber is planning to reveal its process for conducting continuous background checks on its drivers, one of the first large companies to go public with such monitoring plans. Uber particularly is under fire from local governments to better keep tabs on drivers’ criminal records and traffic infractions following accounts of sexual misconduct. The new technology it is investing in will tap data sources covering most new criminal offenses and send Uber a notification when a driver is involved.

“Our new leadership has made safety the top priority at Uber and we are committed to ensuring drivers continue to meet our safety standards on an ongoing basis,” Uber spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in an e-mail.

Thirty-one states have adopted some form of “ban-the-box” policies, which prohibit government agencies from asking about criminal records on an initial job application, according to New York City-based think tank the National Employment Law Project.

In 11 of those states the laws are even stricter, also barring private employers from asking about it until later in the hiring process, in the hope that candidates will get a fair chance at a job.

At the same time that more companies are trying to root out misbehavior with existing employees, other US companies are hiring ex-felons as a way to fill jobs in a country with a 3.8 percent unemployment rate.

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