The Ethics of Pre-Employment Background Checks

The debate over whether the benefit of alerting employers to past dangerous, dishonest, or criminal behavior of a job applicant outweighs the potential harm caused to applicants with a criminal conviction on their records is ongoing.

It is easy to see both sides of this matter – employers clearly have a justifiable interest in ban-the-box21_t580knowing an applicant’s past behavior that could present a risk to other workers or the health of the company, while workers have a compelling argument that a past conviction does not necessarily relate to job performance. In light of this concern, laws have been passed (namely the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and similar state laws) limiting what background investigation firms can disclose. Despite this intentional limiting of the scope of an investigation, periodically questions are raised regarding the propriety of background checks.

In a recent article published in The Atlantic, Alex Bender and Sarah Crowley argue that criminal background checks do not improve workplace safety and therefore the risk that an irrelevant, minor crime prevents an applicant from getting a job or that an erroneous background report is used against an applicant outweighs the benefit to the employer. To support their argument, the authors point to a study performed by the National Consumer Law Center that argues that many pre-employment background checks contain inaccuracies or fail to present the data available in a straightforward manner.

These are all valid concerns. However, upon reading the NCLC report and Bender and Crowley’s article, it seems their arguments are mainly directed toward automated background checks that simply aggregate publicly available arrest and conviction information using an automated software. These programs (largely) draw upon various public record sources and produce an automated report of the findings. However, frequently these reports are inaccurate and can mistakenly duplicate individual charges, mistake individuals with similar names and dates of birth, and present data in a misleading way.  The problem with this automated approach is obvious – they lack the reason, context and understanding that an actual human would bring when performing a pre-employment background screening.

At Inter-State Investigative Services, we are tasked with the responsibility of helping Tucson employers determine whether their applicants are trustworthy and have been forthcoming on their resume. Because the contents of our report could potentially keep someone from being hired, we approach each background with the utmost attention and care. We don’t simply rely on a search of a large database. We review court dockets to determine the actual disposition of a case, call police and sheriff stations to obtain arrest records, check references and verify dates of employment. This multi-faceted approach is far superior to relying on an automated software that will simply pull public records from online sources without the ability to interpret the information.

In addition to the care and attention we give to our employee background screenings in Tucson, we adhere closely to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which limits our ability to report outdated information and informs employers and employees of their rights. These safeguards help us avoid problems associated with automated employment screenings.

To learn more call (520) 882-2723.