Error-laden criminal background checks cost jobs, report says

Criminal background checks conducted on prospective employees routinely contain errors, mismatch people or misclassify criminal offenses, according to a report by the National Consumer Law Center.

The report, released Wednesday, said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, employers increasingly have conducted background checks on prospective hires.

That has created a booming industry of Internet companies that cull public information databases for employers. But the information produced by some of those firms is often riddled with errors.


“Background screening companies routinely cut corners to improve their profits and then they wipe their hands of any responsibility for producing an inaccurate or misleading report that can cost a worker his or her job,” wrote Persis Yu, the report’s coauthor.

According to the National Consumer Law Center, one man was allegedly denied a job after a prospective employer ran a background check that returned a 1987 rape conviction. However, the man, Samuel M. Jackson, was only 4 years old in 1987. The rape conviction was for a man named Samuel L. Jackson, who was incarcerated at the time the check was run.

Situations like Jackson’s have become much more common as more background checks are performed, the report found.

Background checks sometimes contain sealed or expunged information or omit information on how a case was resolved. A job applicant who was arrested, for example, may have been found innocent. But that outcome may not be contained in the information supplied to the employer.

The report’s authors also gave recommendations on how to fix the problem. They urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to draw up regulations to ensure background checks are accurate and to require background-check companies to register with the bureau so consumers have an opportunity to correct false or misleading information.

They also urge the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the many companies that employers use to make sure they are not violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law that protects consumers from false information in credit reports.