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More employers using background checks to screen applicants

Palm Beach Post-Cox News Service | April 27, 2005
By Tammy Joyner

ATLANTA — Concerned with legal and security pitfalls, more employers are digging into job candidates' backgrounds, and the scrutiny is turning up damaging information, according to a study of hiring trends.

Background checks have risen 16 percent in the past year, the ADP Employer Services Hiring Index found. About 4.4 million background checks were conducted last year, up from nearly 3.8 million in 2003. That's also triple the number of checks conducted just eight years ago.

The findings, released Monday, may be the first concrete glimpse of the hurdles job seekers face in a post-Sept. 11 job market.

The good news is that job hunters face better prospects now than they have in the past few years, but they also face greater scrutiny because of national anxiety over ethics breaches and greater government pressure for more corporate accountability.

Background checks are proving to be legal minefields for employers and may snare even the most law-abiding worker.

In 9 percent of the cases studied by ADP, the data contained inconsistencies or negative information. The inaccuracies centered on criminal, credit and driving records, workers' compensation claims and reference checks.

Technology and the emergence of hundreds of background-checking companies have allowed not only companies, but individuals and the media, to peer into people's lives with relative ease, legal and workplace experts said.

"It's a much different job environment now," said John Challenger, a Chicago area outplacement executive whose company tracks workplace trends.

"Today, anything you've done in the past might very well come back to haunt you."

Background checks have turned up myriad problems for job hunters:

•Half of the employment, education and credential reference checks revealed differences in information between what the applicant provided and what the background check found.

•Forty-five percent of credit records checked showed a judgment, lien or bankruptcy, or some report to a collection agency.

•Five percent of records checked for criminal problems in the previous seven years revealed some infraction.

•Nearly 3 in 10 of the candidates had one or more violations or convictions on their driving records.

Some, like Challenger, question whether employers may be crossing the line when it comes to privacy. "How much Big Brother do we want in this country?"

Challenger lamented the passing of more forgiving times.

"It's been part of the American way," he said, "that when you lose your job for whatever reason, you get to start over again."


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