Philadelphia Employment Law News

Erroneous Background Checks Cost Jobs, Violate Law?

When your employer checks your background, what will they find? For one man, found he was convicted of rape. Strangely, he was four at the time. The background check had confused Samuel M. Jackson, the applicant, with Samuel L. Jackson, the incarcerated rapist (not to be confused with the greatest actor of all time,) reports the Los Angeles Times.

Background checks are becoming increasingly important since September 2011, with 93% of employers conducting background checks on some employees and 73% checking all employees. The problem of inaccuracy is becoming more widespread, as there are no licenses or documentation required to start a background check company. All that is required is a computer, internet access, and customers, writes the Times.

A perfect storm of inaccuracy and a huge unemployed workforce means that logically, if any flags are raised, that person's chances at the job diminish greatly or even completely.

One thing that can help protect a job applicant is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which regulates companies that collect information on consumers for the sake of credit, employment, and insurance. Under FCRA, if a negative decision is made, the user (the employer) has to notify you in writing as to the negative decision as well as the source of the negative information.

If you have had a negative decision reached on the basis of a background check or credit report, it is important that you ensure the accuracy of the reports by contacting whichever company did the report. The three credit report bureaus are required to provide one free credit report per year. Any background check company or any of the smaller credit report bureaus has to provide you with a free report each year as well. They also have to provide you with a report if they make a negative decision, even if you have already gotten a free report in the preceding year.

For those who have been harmed due to a company's error, the FCRA allows civil suits for damages. If the violation was willful, recovery is between $100-$1000 plus punitive damages and attorney's fees. For negligent violations, where there was no intent to skirt the law, you can recover your actual damages, plus attorney's fees. In the case of a negative employment decision, this might include lost wages, depending on the circumstances.

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