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.”
Illustration: Tania Chou
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.
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.
InfoMart’s Gordon sees no contradiction in the two trends, as companies that look past previous indiscretions need to know what is happening with their workforce, he said.
“The background check companies are very good at marketing fear of liability to employers,” said Drake, the Berger & Montague lawyer. “I think a lot of employers say: ‘I’m buying at least the illusion of safety,’ but my view is what they’re really getting is just security theater. I think it is an illusion, and I think that they are potentially missing out on really good workers as a result of that.”
As for driver Cradeur, Uber reactivated his account and gave him US$1,000 for his troubles after he proved his innocence.
However, the wound has yet to heal.
“In the last couple months, I’ve almost exclusively driven for Lyft,” he said. “It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.”
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday wrapped up its annual party conference-cum-national decision-making forums in Beijing: the National People’s Congress (NPC) and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), known colloquially as the “two meetings.” They are normally tightly choreographed affairs, designed to project an image of stability and unassailable strength, but several events leading up this month’s sessions provided strong indications that all is not well in the state of Denmark. The first sign of major discontent came in March, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in China, when an article by real-estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang
French firm DCI-DESCO in April won a bid to upgrade Taiwan’s Lafayette frigates, which has strained ties between China and France. In 1991, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates and in 1992 sold it 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets. To prevent arms sales between the nations, China negotiated an agreement with France and in 1994 in a joint statement, France promised that there would be no future arms sales to Taiwan. From China’s point of view, the DCI-DESCO deal constitutes a breach of the agreement, but the French stance is that it is not selling Taiwan new weapons, but instead providing a
Chung Yuan ChristiaN University is clearly in bed with the People’s Republic of China. This can be the only explanation why the school’s authorities have done their utmost to shield a student, who lodged a complaint against an associate professor, and then used thuggish tactics to compel the teacher to issue two separate apologies to China. The original complaint, filed by an unnamed Chinese student, was for remarks by associate professor Chao Ming-wei (招名威) during a class on the origin of COVID-19. A second complaint was filed by the same student after Chao, during an apology, stated that he was a