Secrets of the Job Hunt


Monday, July 28, 2008

Background Checks Could Make Employees Uncomfortable

While background checks are becoming commonplace for most employers, some people feel the process violates their right to privacy.

A background check is the process of looking up official and commercial records about a person, and is often done when someone applies for a job that requires a trustworthy employee, such as those with a school, hospital, bank, airport or law enforcement agency. Background checks are now usually purchased as a service from a private business.

During a background check, an employer may have access to a potential employee's past employment, credit worthiness and criminal history. Although common practice among many employers, some potential employees can feel threatened with the idea of a background check.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, some people feel a background check will invade their sense of privacy.

"While some people are not concerned about background investigations, others are uncomfortable with the idea of investigators poking around in their personal histories," the site states. "In-depth checks could unearth information that is irrelevant, taken out of context, or just plain wrong. A further concern is that the report might include information that is illegal to use for hiring purposes or which comes from questionable sources."

In 2002, Northwest Airlines faced a civil lawsuit against 10,000 of its mechanics for allegedly conducting post-hire background checks. The lawsuit came after a new federal law required carriers to screen workers who had committed any of 28 specific criminal offenses during the past 10 years. The mechanics were part of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, and contended that the airline turned up information on minor offenses and fired some workers.

The lawsuit was thrown out in April 2002, and Northwest Airlines said it would limit its background checks to the scope of the law.

Gregg Hall, a writer for, thinks while some people may feel victimized by background checks, they are necessary and will become common practice in all business fields.

"As technology becomes greater, so does the potential for being victimized by people who use technology for nefarious purposes," he said. "While rare, people can set up false identities and use them to prey upon the uninformed. Many banks now run a credit and background check to make sure that potential employees don't have a criminal background and to ensure that customers applying for accounts pay their bills on time and don't have a history of writing bad checks. As time goes on, the need for these reports will become greater and may eventually become a regular part both our business and personal lives."

Whether or not a potential employee feels comfortable with a background check, chances are he or she is going to face one at some point.

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