The Skinny on Background Checks

At 2pm on Tuesday, I wandered into the “Top Ten Trends for Background Checks in 2012,” and not surprisingly, the place was packed. Even before the presentation started, audience members were peppering presenter Lester Rosen with questions. About 15 minutes into the start of the session, the actual presentation got underway.

Rosen, a California attorney, is the author of The Safe Hiring Manual, the first comprehensive guide to employment background checks. He was the chair of the steering committee that founded the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, a trade group for the screening industry, and served as its first chair.

Rosen launched the discussion by sharing why due diligence is mission critical. He listed a “parade of horribles” that can come from not conducting background checks: negligent hiring/retention lawsuits; fraudulent credentials; turnover costs; brand destruction; and time wasted in recruiting, hiring and training.

HR professionals “spend most of their time dealing with problem employees,” said Rosen.  “What’s the best way to avoid employee problems? Don’t hire problem employees.”

He said that the most important background check trend of 2012 is easily the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new guidelines on using criminal records in employment decisions. Issued on April 25, the guidelines, which build on previous ones, state that unlimited use of criminal records by an employer can be discriminatory.

The EEOC’s belief is that people who have criminal records are being excluded from the workforce, and sometimes, for minor offenses. After all, a 2011 study by National Employment Law Project found that nearly 65 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have criminal records.  They are people who made mistakes but need jobs in order to become law-abiding and tax-paying citizens.

Because this new guideline isn’t a law or regulation, employers can and should continue to use background checks to hire the best possible workforce, argued Rosen. But they should be mindful of this development because “you don’t want to be the guinea pig for the first EEOC case,” he said.

Trend # 2 – Credit report checks by employers are increasingly regulated by state laws. Rosen addressed why credit report checks could be considered problematic. They can appear to invade privacy and potentially be discriminatory. Additionally, credit reports can have errors or not tell the whole story.

At present, seven states have passed laws limiting credit reports for employment: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon and Washington. Rosen told the audience to approach the issue with caution and use credit reports only for positions where this is a business justification based upon the job.

Rosen then shared his eight remaining trends around background checks:

3) Social media checks of job applicants are becoming more prevalent and controversial.

4) Automation in screening has increased both efficiency and risks.

5) The National Association of Professional Background Screeners’ Accreditation Program is proof of increased professionalism in the industry.

6) Diploma mills offering fake degrees are increasing in the tight job market.

7) Lawsuits are increasing as attorneys and consumers become familiar with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

8) New E-Verify laws are creating a complex web of federal and state rules.

9) The offshoring of Personally Identifiable information (PII) is increasing privacy and identity theft concerns.

10) Some jobseekers are taking matters into own hands by proactively conducting “self” background checks.


  1. I’ve noticed companies requesting an increasing amount of personal information (Social Security number, driver’s license number, etc.) as part of the online application process. I can’t think of a good reason for this; companies receive so many applications for each opening, and many interview extensively. I prefer not to provide sensitive personal data before an offer is made, but it seems highly premature to request it prior to a second interview.

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