We see it in the news all the time, someone is a suspect in a high-profile crime and almost immediately news outlets are reporting their prior criminal records and their employment history. Suddenly, everyone is asking how did this person ever get a job? How were they able to pass pre-employment background checks?
The answer is simple. Media outlets don’t have to worry about federal and state consumer reporting laws when reporting news about criminal records.
Traditionally, employers have relied on Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) to identify the best sources of information that would likely include a criminal record about an individual, and CRAs are expected to follow strict data quality and reporting guidelines that comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and related state laws. These laws stipulate what can be reported in pre-employment background checks and used in making hiring decisions.
Here are a few recent examples:
Standard Practice for Reporting Convictions Can Vary
In New York City, an investigation into school bus drivers revealed that at least six drivers had criminal histories. Though these crimes ranged from DUIs to burglary and assault convictions, the drivers had no problems gaining employment with the Office of Pupil Transportation. Convictions are reportable for any length of time, but background screenings can differ based on the order submitted. Standard practice is seven years of relevant criminal history, but employers can request another specific period, provided it abides by state law. In this case, New York law does not allow convictions older than seven years to be reported if the applicant is expected to make less than $25,000.
Every Background Check Order is Different
In Illinois, Andres Rodriguez was able to secure employment at Lyons School District 103 in Chicago, despite a current pending charge for attempted murder. The Chicago Tribune detailed how an arrest for allegedly shooting a man seven times following a traffic incident did not prevent Rodriguez from being hired. A background check was conducted, but every order is different. If the employer did not request that pending charges or arrest records be searched and reported, Rodriguez’s background screen could have come back clean. The school district would have needed to customize the background check to include pending charges for this incident to have been included on the report.
Conviction Records Can Be Cleared
DeKalb County School District in Georgia recently came under scrutiny when news surfaced that they had employed a teacher with apparent prior convictions following his arrest for felony possession of methamphetamine. Carl Hudson, Jr. taught in the Atlanta-area for two years and had submitted to background checks and employment history reports, but his felony arrest did not surface. Hudson pled guilty to disorderly conduct and was granted a conditional discharge, meaning the conviction would be cleared if he avoided legal run-ins for the following year. He met the conditions and his charges were dismissed. According to the New York law, charges that did not lead to a conviction or are expunged or sealed are not included on background check reports. Even though the background check was ordered by an employer located in Georgia, CRAs would still not be able to report the dismissed this New York case, as the CRA must follow the laws of the state from which the record was retrieved.
Businesses shouldn’t operate like media outlets when it comes to screening potential employees. Help ensure that your screening program is both compliant and effective. For 25 years, ESS has been helping companies hire and retain safe and productive workforces with personal attention and service certainty. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.