Post 9/11 World of Employee Background Checks

employee background checksThis morning reminded me so much of the morning of 9-11-2001.  Crisp, clear and sunny.  Innocent. I remember jumping in a cab early that morning in Washington DC as the city was waking up.  I had two appointments.  First, I was speaking to a group of federal probation officers on preventing violence against women and children.  Then after lunch I was heading across the river for a meeting with the Department of Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence.  I never made it across the river (thankfully).

I was reflecting on that day during my morning commute.  I was thanking God for protecting me that day.  I was also thinking about how 9-11 impacted employee background checks.

The young background screening industry exploded immediately after 9-11.  Our sense of safety and security had been stolen.

I can remember boarding a plane the day flights resumed for a cross-country flight and realized immediately our world had changed.  Security screening was intense.

Gone were the days when you pre-boarded a plane and focused on your work, laptop, mobile phone (no iPad yet) or book.  Every passenger was studying each person boarding the plane, looking for any sign of a potential terrorist.

We were on heightened alert.  Highly sensitive.  Focused.

Then I noticed over the years that this started to fade.  We started to fall back into our old patterns and habits.

And we have seen the same type of shift in employee background checks.  The pendulum has swung a different direction.

The EEOC has made criminal record checks a high priority with their 2012 strategic plan.  They have made it clear that they believe the proliferation of criminal background checks has had a negative impact ex-offenders.

Yet very little thought to how the victims of the ex-offenders were impacted.

Several states have enacted laws to restrict the reporting of criminal records with many other states exploring similar restrictions.  This has been dubbed “second chance” laws.

Really?  Second chance?  If so, I am all for that.  Someone makes a mistake, pays their debt, learns from their mistake and moves forward.  I would participate in that graduation ceremony.

However, my 20+ years of experience with the criminal justice system has lead me to believe the law should be more accurately described as the tenth time law.  We have tried everything to lower recidivism rates:

  • Education
  • Tougher sentencing
  • Drug courts
  • Anger management

And as we continue to see the same percentage of offenders return to prison as we did 20 years ago (before the proliferation of background checks) then the only thing left is employment.

It is the lack of gainful employment that caused someone to steal a bike from the side of our home 2 weeks ago.

It is a lack of gainful employment that drives a person to physically abuse their partner.

It is a lack of gainful employment that leads someone to sexually abuse a 10 year old child.

Or is it personal choice and responsibility?

Should a bad decision 20 years ago such as a DUI, public intoxication, simple possession impact your employment today?  Probably not.  The recent case of a bank employee in Iowa being fired after a background check revealed a conviction 49 years ago for putting fake coins in a laundry machine is absurd.  Actually it is stupid.

However, we need to understand how broad-brush restrictions such as the recent law in Indiana WILL impact our organizations.  Yes, it may help this victim of an ignorant bank.  But it will also open the door for career criminals to hide their past so that you do not receive the full picture during the pre-employment process.

So on this anniversary of 9-11-2001, it is critical that we understand the shifting tides with employment background checks and how that could impact our organizations.  Let your voices be heard.

Join us for a webinar on the new Indiana laws restricting criminal history checks.  Register today.