Keeping Em’ Honest: Responding to the National Background Check Report

Earlier this month, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) published a report damning the background screening industry for what they characterize as a reckless disregard for accuracy in their reporting.

And of course, as the general media is wont to do, they jumped all over this sensational report without asking for comment from the other side. To borrow a phrase from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I’m Keeping Em’ Honest.”

Whereas, I generally take up for the industry in my responses to these types of attacks on the industry, I would rather focus just on EmployeeScreenIQ today. So, let me start by saying that there are those in our industry that are guilty of some or all of the practices highlighted in the report. However, this study paints the industry with way too broad a brush; assuming all of or the the majority of us operate in this reckless fashion.

A mischaracterization of the issue

The NCLC study mischaracterizes the issue from the get-go when they suggest that the 65 million Americans with criminal records are forever tarnished from an employers point of view. This is an outrageous disregard of the facts on behalf of NCLC. If that were the case, employers would have a much more limited applicant pool then they need to fill jobs.

True, some people are denied employment due to past criminal convictions, but for the most part employers weigh the seriousness of the crime, the age of the conviction, whether someone is a repeat offender, etc. And to bolster my contention that this is taking place, our recent marketplace survey of over 600 HR professionals showed that less than 10 percent of their candidates with criminal records are not hired due to their convictions. Furthermore, the study showed that 72 percent of respondents say that qualifications are more influential in the decision-making process than the presence of a criminal record.

It is also worth noting that many of the protections they are advocating are already found in both federal and state laws and are followed to the letter of the law by the overwhelming majority of Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA’s).

NCLC’s research reveals that criminal background screening companies’ reports routinely, “mismatch people (i.e. a person with no criminal background with someone who has a record, which is especially problematic for people with common names); omit crucial information about a case, (i.e. a person is arrested but then found innocent); reveal sealed or expunged information (i.e. a juvenile offense); provide misleading information, (i.e. a single charge listed multiple times); and/or misclassify offenses (i.e. reporting a misdemeanor as a felony).

Many of these errors can be attributed to common practices by background screening companies, such as:

  • Retrieving information through bulk record dissemination and failing to routinely update their databases;
  • Failing to verify information obtained through subcontractors and other faulty sources;
  • Using unsophisticated matching criteria;
  • Failing to use all available information to prevent a false positive match; and
  • Lacking understanding about state specific criminal justice procedures.

Below, we address each of these concerns, tell you what the NCLC report is referring to, and what EmployeeScreenIQ does to ensure their concerns are addressed.

Retrieving information though bulk record dissemination

National Consumer Law Center report: They are referring to the use of commercial criminal database tools and their feeling that some don’t take the time to verify the information.

EmployeeScreenIQ response: While we highly recommend these types of database searches, we only recommend them as a complement to a thorough county criminal record search. Furthermore, it is and has always been our practice to follow up on any national database records with a local search to determine accuracy both for the record itself and to ensure that it belongs to the candidate we are screening. Nothing is ever reported until this information is corroborated.

Failing to verify information from subcontractors

NCLC report: They are referring to criminal records found by actual court researchers.

ESIQ response: True, we couldn’t send another researcher to verify the information we’ve already found. However, we have the most stringent requirements in the industry for selecting and retaining researchers. Less than 30 percent of all researchers that want to work for us actually meet these requirements. In addition, once they do qualify, we regularly blindly test them with candidates. If they fail to perform up to our standards, we move on to the next researcher.

Now should we ever get something wrong, the candidate has 30 days to dispute the information which we allow them to do in a clear, conspicuous and transparent way (it is worth noting that our dispute rate is just 0.02 percent).

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Unsophisticated matching criteria/prevention of false-positive matches

NCLC report: Screeners don’t properly determine if a record really belongs to the candidate they are screening.

ESIQ response: EmployeeScreenIQ will only report a record if at least two data points match. Generally, the most common identifiers are name and date of birth, but occasionally you can also match by social security number and, or address. If we cannot match at least two of these data points, the record is never passed on to our client.

Lack of understanding about state-specific criminal justice procedures

NCLC report: Screeners don’t follow state laws.

ESIQ response: Before EmployeeScreenIQ ever reports a negative finding, the record goes through our Compliance Department to determine if it is reportable under federal and state laws where the person resides.

Bottom line: it is as irresponsible for the National Consumer Law Center to publish this information damning the entire industry as it is for those in our industry engaged in these practices. If we all operated with this alleged disregard, we would practically live in court, and if that didn’t bankrupt us, our insurance companies would pull the plug. Perhaps the NCLC would be interested in checking out our recent white paper on our “No Shortcuts” philosophy.

If you are an employer that doesn’t like the practices the NCLC has highlighted, you might want to consider selecting an National Association of Professional Background Screeners accredited firm.

And by the way, it is also important to consider the source of this report.

One of the authors, Sharon M. Dietrich, publicly declared at a 2011 Cornell seminar on criminal records that she was sick of hearing those from our industry point to the “occasional violent crime” that occurs in the workplace as evidence of why background checks are essential to employers. She clearly has an ax grind with our industry and that is evident in this report.

Click here for the entire National Consumer Law Center report.


1 Comment on “Keeping Em’ Honest: Responding to the National Background Check Report

  1. Nick, this is a great article. Our organization has become obsessed with “safe hiring”  and information on pre-employment screening, the risks, the issues, etc., is much appreciated.

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