How Screwed Up Background Checks May Have Cost You a Job

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

These days, job seekers face more obstacles than ever when trying to find steady, fair-paying work. Most of us are finding ways to deal with the new economy, which has seen jobs shipped overseas and sometimes made completely redundant by technology. Other job-seekers are up against past mistakes, and trying find an employer that is willing to overlook criminal convictions or poor credit scores.

On top of all that, it’s taking longer than ever to even get a response after sending in an application or résumé — employers are being as picky as ever, and taking their time filling the more than 5 million vacant positions out there.

It’s recently been revealed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that job seekers have been dealing with another curve ball, unbeknownst to most — the nation’s leading background check providers, the companies that employers use to dig through an applicant’s past, have been supplying faulty reports.

“General Information Services and its affiliate, e-Background-checks.com, Inc. (BGC), potentially affected consumers’ eligibility for employment and caused reputational harm,” the CFPB said in a press release. Both organizations were to taken to task by the government for “failing take basic steps to assure the information reported about job applicants was accurate.”

What does that mean for you? You may have missed out on a job opportunity because the employer could have used one of these firms to check your background, and was supplied with the wrong information. As a result, both companies were ordered to pony up $10.5 million to the individuals who were harmed, and then pay another $2.5 million in civil penalties.

“General Information Services and its affiliate failed to take basic steps to provide accurate background screening reports to employers about job applicants,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today, we are holding two of the largest companies in this market accountable for cleaning up the quality of their reports.”

To get into the details, the CFPB says that both GIS and BGC were guilty of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a 45-year-old law that was meant to ensure that sensitive personal information — like that contained in an employment screening — was accurate. Specifically, the CFPB found that these reporting companies lacked basic protocols to make sure they were matching the right records, and also gave away information to employers they were not permitted to share.

“Between 2010 and 2014, nearly 70 percent of criminal history disputes consumers filed with GIS resulted in some change or correction to the information in the consumer’s background report,” the CFPB said. “As a result, the companies provided prospective employers with inaccurate reports that included criminal records attached to the wrong consumers, dismissed and expunged records, and misdemeanors reported as felony convictions. These inaccuracies can result in the denial of employment, missed economic opportunity, and reputational harm to otherwise qualified applicants.”

No kidding. And that’s why there’s $10.5 million up for grabs for those who were harmed as a result of these miscues. That should add up to around $1,000 per person — which isn’t much, but it’s a bit of consolation. The Hill reports that these two companies combined roll out around 10 million reports for employers on an annual basis, meaning this was a widespread and serious problem.

For job seekers, this is just one more obstacle to finding employment that they’ll now have to take into consideration. There are many times when people sail through the interview process, only to find that they are not going to be given an offer with little or no explanation. These background check inaccuracies could play into that, along with the questionable practices of checking credit reports.

Policymakers have started to touch on making this process more fluid, such as when President Obama recently ordered federal employers to ‘block the box’, or stop asking about applicant’s criminal histories. It’s a move meant to help get people out of prisons and back to work, as that has been a big roadblock for those who have served time and are trying to get back in the workforce.

We’ll have to see if any headway is made in terms of credit and background screenings, however, and if any companies in the private sector are willing to follow suit.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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