Topic of the Week Background Checks
While an employer may have reasons for wanting to do a background check, as a potential employee, you also have rights and an expectation of privacy. For many types of information, an employer needs to get your written permission before they can get information about you. Once an employer has information about you, they must inform you if they take any adverse action against you because of that information. Additionally, an employer cannot use any of the information in a discriminatory manner.
1. But that’s my private information. Does an employer need permission before performing a background check?
For a lot of information, like your school transcripts, medical records, or military service records, your employer needs permission first. An employer also needs your permission if they use an outside agency to gather any background information. If an employer gets your background report without your permission, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
However, employers can find out a lot about you without needing your permission just by typing your name into Google. When applying for a job, make sure to Google yourself so you know what shows up and can attempt to fix any wrong or unfortunate information.
2. Can my employer perform a drug test? That seems personal, like a background check on my body.
Like background checks in general, while the laws vary between states, employers generally can perform drug tests, and in some cases are required to do so. However, an employer’s drug testing policies must be written down, accessible to employees, and applied equally to all applicants and employees.
3. I feel as though my employer is using background checks in discriminatory ways. Only some groups of people seem to be affected by the background checks. What can I do?
In a situation like this, the more relevant law may be discrimination law as opposed to the laws about background checks. The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcement in this area. When an employer inquires about your background, the employer must treat you the same as everyone else, regardless of your race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, or older age. Even if the employer treats you equally, using background information still may be illegal discrimination.