How Criminal and Background Checks Impact Our Workforce

November 14th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

It seems obvious: employers perform criminal background checks to know if job applicants may be potentially dangerous and pose safety risks, right? Of course, these kinds of assessments are particularly significant when the job involves the prospective employee’s need to carry a weapon, drive, and/or have access to money, children, the elderly, or the chronically ill. However, according to the Urban Institute, an almost 50-year-old nonprofit community-centric research organization, the two main types of criminal background checks that are available are seriously flawed, making it extraordinarily difficult for people with criminal records to secure employment.

Everyone’s criminal record is different — almost like a unique fingerprint. Many individuals who find themselves on the outside trying to make a new life are not actually a risk to the people around them. Having a screening process in place for employment may be necessary, but when fingerprint matching with the FBI criminal record database returns incomplete responses, or when private vendors furnish inaccurate results, everybody loses. Employers miss out on potentially excellent workers and applicants miss out on a crucial opportunity to start rebuilding their lives.

While the FBI’s database is reasonably reliable and mostly eliminates the risks of false positives and false negatives, the agency is infamous for taking a long time to process report requests. When the reports finally do arrive, they often come back without court documents, making it difficult for employers to understand what they’re looking at. One common problem with background checks from private sources is that the work is often sloppy—profiles are returned for the wrong people, court documents are missing, and/or records are otherwise incomplete. Not all state and local authorities keep the same organizational system for their records, so the accuracy and completeness of the check is pretty much dependent on how well the records are kept and how diligent the background check vendor is when digging for the information. Variations in how often records are updated also means that sealed or expunged records run the risk of being wrongfully shared to employers.

The lack of standardization where record-keeping is concerned is clearly part of the problem. However, perhaps the biggest factor at play is a lack of attention paid to comparing past crimes to the specific context of any particular job description. Background checks can be done quicker and more efficiently if the information made available was not just accurate, but was relevant to the job for which the person is applying.

It’s quite easy to have opinions and to say that people with criminal histories should get a fair second chance. But when the process takes so long for each application they fill out, and when the person gets turned down time after time due to inaccurate and incomplete background checks, it suddenly makes it that much more difficult to get a job. If those applicants with criminal records have greater access to jobs, they have fewer reasons to resume a life of crime. Gainful employment can only be a positive influence.

No matter what the circumstances are, if you’ve been accused of a crime or have questions about how the law might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. As criminal defense attorneys with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.