Are employee criminal background checks always a good idea?

Are criminal background checks on job applicants or existing employees always a good idea? Is refusing to hire somebody because of a criminal record always what’s best for society? This is a valid argument often brought up, particularly by those who have a criminal record.

Employers do have an obligation to protect their employees, assets and clients, but have employee background checks gone overboard? Every situation is unique so maybe hiring decisions should not always be based soley on the discovery of a criminal record.

It has been argued that not hiring otherwise qualified employees because of a criminal past is creating a permanent underclass of people who can only get hired for dead end minimum wage jobs, and drive some people to homelessness or crime. We have all heard about or experienced the growing costs of housing, food, electricity and gas. To make matters worse, in many metropolitan areas such as Pinellas County Florida, cheap housing is rapidly disappearing, and being replaced with more expensive housing, such as mobile home parks selling out to condo developers.

The majority of employers today won’t hire somebody with any felony record, even if the person is highly qualified and has repaid his or her debt to society. This now includes even Walmart and Home Depot!

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One Response to “Are employee criminal background checks always a good idea?”

  1. It’s even worse than you think. I am a C.P.A. with an M.B.A. with over 20 years of financial management experience. In addition, twelve of those years involved experience in non-profit higher education and hospital administration. So you would think that experience working as a Controller at two private universities, one public community college, and one hospital & nursing home would make it fairly easy to secure a position. But because of overzealous law enforcement and a district attorney who went disregarded what my wife asked and completely distorted the facts of the situation, I ended up following poor counsel and pleaded to a simple (misdemeanor) battery charge with court supervision for 18 months. This occurred almost 2 years ago, all court requirements have been met but I now have to wait 2 years from June 12, 2009 to “request” my record to be expunged. A felony might have been actually better because I could request it to be sealed or a pardon and the circumstances of impropriety and incompetency by the legal authorities and my attorney would likely give me a high probability of success.

    The end result of this is that in most cases, where the college or university requires their on-line application to be completed, (probably about half of private and over 75% of all public institutions), you are asked if you have ANYTHING beyond a traffic citation on your record. If you answer “yes”, you then have to explain it in detail. My experience has proven that this is truly the “kiss of death.” An example illustrates why perfectly. Rush University Memorial Hospital advertised for a financial management position requiring management experience in higher education and their specific software (Datatel’s Colleague) experience. CPA, MBA and Controller or Accounting Manager experience preferred. I had all of their “preferred” experience and credentials. The assistant controller I hired and mentored at the last university I worked for got the job. She was/is NOT a C.P.A. nor possessing an M.B.A., not a great interviewer not nearly as experienced or capable in general accounting and finance, the specific software nor higher education. She is very capable but also had little management experience, a necessity of the job. I also was not OVERQUALIFIED. End result: I did not even receive a notice of rejection. She was hired. I found out I was rejected when I received a prompt to check my application and found the position was filled. She called me and told me that she got the job and was shocked that she was hired with me as a co-applicant. I was never even considered and probably immediately removed from the applicant pool as soon as someone read my disclosure of the details on my misdemeanor.

    The result of this has been inability to find employment, a trashed credit record since I cannot pay my bills, borrowing from retirement to pay my property tax bill to buy more toys for law enforcement in my town.

    My advice to anyone in management and especially higher education or hospital administration with ANYTHING besides a traffic ticket on the record is to first avoid answering the question. Alternatively, answer no and explain later as an oversight in order to give yourself at least a slight chance of being considered fairly by a potential employer. Its sad that you have to handle it this way but its the only real chance you have to secure employment.

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