Over sixty leading pre-employment background screening firms have joined together to express their support for increasing the accuracy of criminal background checks used for employment screening. Called ConcernedCRAs, the group has voluntarily pledged to verify the accuracy of criminal records concerning job seekers prior to reporting them to employers.
Employers commonly utilize background screening firms to ensure that they are hiring qualified workers who do not represent a potential threat in the workplace. Recognizing that background reports affect the ability of workers to obtain employment and that privately- maintained databases may contain inaccurate information, members of ConcernedCRAs take the position that any criminal record obtained from a proprietary criminal record database should be verified against the current public record at the courthouse or with the original government agency to ensure that it is complete and up-to-date.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no unified national criminal database available to employers. The FBI’s NCIC database is the federal government’s best attempt at a national repository, but its use is strictly limited to a select few employers that have been given special access. And even the FBI’s database is notoriously incomplete.
Frequently marketed as "national," "nationwide" or “instant,” proprietary criminal records databases are compiled over time by private companies who purchase information from a patchwork of sources such as county courts, state criminal records repositories, sex offender registries, and prison systems. Subsequent judicial and administrative actions often change the status of the original record, meaning that the previously procured records are no longer complete or up to date. Screening firms that rely primarily on the information in the out-of-date databases will report inaccurate information to employers, harming both employers and job seekers. Additionally, many jurisdictions do not make all of their records available to the database companies; therefore reliance solely on criminal records databases ensures that significant records will be missed.
“Although these databases can be extremely helpful for employers in performing a broad search to find more places to look for records, they are not an adequate means of performing due diligence in hiring,” commented Larry L. Lambeth, President of Employment Screening Services, Inc., one of the founding members of ConcernedCRAs. “Our concern is that some employers mistakenly believe that these databases are all they need, and it can end up hurting both employers and job applicants. These databases are like casting a net across the country with large holes in it. Not all counties are available, and many records can be missed. Additionally, the databases routinely report incomplete or incorrect information, harming job seekers and employers.”
Current federal law does allow a screening firm the option of reporting the results of a database search without confirming the details at the courthouse. Under this option, commonly cited as “contemporaneous notification,” the screening company need only send the applicant a letter informing him of the fact that a report has been made, along with the name and address of the company to which the report was issued. Members of ConcernedCRAs recognize that this approach unfairly puts the responsibility of ensuring the accuracy of the background check on the job seeker, even though the background screening firms know that the databases have the potential to report incorrect information.
Membership in ConcernedCRAs is open to any background screening firm that self-certifies that it complies with its standards, which include the responsible use of criminal record databases as well as not sending sensitive applicant data such as social security numbers “off-shore” and beyond the reach of U.S. privacy protection laws. More information may be found at: http://www.concernedcras.com/.