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Worker advocacy group claims FBI criminal background checks are flawed

Worker advocacy group claims FBI criminal background checks are flawed

A seriously flawed criminal background check process used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is hurting employers as well as their workers, a worker advocacy group said in a report issued Tuesday.

FBI records “routinely fail to report important information on the outcome of arrests, information that is often beneficial to workers subject to these reports,” according to the report from the New York-based National Employment Law Project.

“Given the massive proliferation of FBI background checks for employment — roughly 17 million were conducted last year — these inaccuracies have a devastating impact on workers, especially workers of color who are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system,” says the report. It says the 17 million is six times the number of screenings that were conducted in 2002.

This impacts employers as well, according to the report: “Employers are denied prompt access to qualified workers, especially in industries with ongoing labor shortages like trucking and health care.”

“Employers assume FBI background checks are the gold standard, but the records are unreliable,” Madeline Neighly, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project and the report's lead author, said in a statement. “Around half of the FBI's records are missing information on the final outcome of arrests — information that in many cases would significantly benefit workers who have turned their lives around.”

The report says the FBI “already has the capacity to update and correct background checks,” which it did in implementing the background checks provisions under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, enacted in 1993.


“Implementing a similarly effective system for employment and licensing-related criminal background checks,” along with certain reforms, “will ensure that job seekers are treated more fairly; that employers have a fuller pool of candidates, increasing the likelihood that they can access the best and most qualified workers in a timely fashion; that other public agencies are not required to spend limited resources in tracking down information to update records; and that the greater accuracy and accountability of the system will boost public confidence in the integrity of the FBI criminal background check process.”

Among the reforms suggested by the report is federal legislation requiring the FBI to obtain missing deposition information before releasing background checks for employment and licensing purposes.

Copies of the report, “Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment,” are available here.

An FBI spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Last week, nine state attorneys general led by West Virginia asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to reconsider its policy on criminal background checks and dismiss two lawsuits the agency has filed related to the issue.