Faulty Background Checks Costing People Jobs

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
November 12, 2009

Employers are stepping up efforts to weed out undesirable job applicants and employees through criminal background checks, but some people are unfairly losing job opportunities because of faulty records.

The Baltimore Sun recently reported that Eschol Amelia Studnitz lost her accounting job when a government background check rejected her for a low-level security clearance, even though she had no criminal record. Even though the data was soon determined by the Social Security Administration to be erroneous, the 59-year-old was not rehired and now lives on unemployment checks.

"This is a horrible injustice to her," said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, who was quoted in the Sun. She added that unfortunately, the incident is not surprising: The error was a result of the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, which has been inaccurate before.

Experiences such as these have caused a surge of people seeking to legally clear their criminal records, reports The Wall Street Journal. Attorneys noted that many with solid work histories are missing job opportunities because of a minor offense from decades ago.

"This is affecting a whole new group," said Michael Hornung, a defense attorney in Florida who was quoted by the Journal. "I've had more people come in to talk to me about having their records expunged in the last year than I have had in the previous 13 combined."

Some argue that background checks are necessary and valuable, particularly for jobs that involve children. The Winston-Salem Journal Reporter in North Carolina notes, for example, that area county schools plan to run a random sampling of employee names through a criminal background check. The move comes in response to a local middle school drama teacher's arrest for sexual misconduct whose background check failed to reveal a felony embezzlement conviction in 1985.

"We believe this is an anomaly," said Theo Helm, a spokesman for the school system who was quoted by the Journal Reporter, "but we want to make sure that's the case."

In a related story, USA Today reports that organizations routinely run background checks for volunteers working with children or the elderly. According to Jennifer Chandler, vice president of the National Council of Nonprofits, background checks for screening volunteers has become more commonplace since 1993, when the National Child Protection Act became law.

"Most savvy nonprofit leaders that use volunteers working with vulnerable populations understand that some level of background checking is expected," Chandler told USA Today.

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