Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Protect Your Privacy Rights as a Job Seeker

I wanted to alert everybody to some excellent new information provided by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse regarding not just the difficulties facing job seekers, but their privacy rights being violated in this very search (and a bill that helps address one aspect of this problem).

As PRC details in their email blast, "Taylor Thomas is left searching for employment after he is terminated from his job due to the bad economy.  Despite being highly qualified for the positions he interviews for, Taylor has one rejection after another. Two of the companies even seem ready to hire him. But, it is as if something happens to change their mind between the interview and the hiring decision.  Taylor has almost exhausted his list of potential employers and has landed an interview at what may be his best chance for a job.

Watch the video to find out what’s keeping Taylor from getting hired. Learn your rights about employment background checks, and spread the word! Although Taylor is a fictional character, the situation dramatized on the six-minute video is similar to many complaints we have received from individuals who have contacted our hotline with questions and complaints about background check errors.

Now, before I get to more about YOUR RIGHTS as a job seeker, particularly in what companies/employers can dig up on you and what they can't and shouldn't, let me point you to one bill, on the Governor's desk - AB 22 (Mendoza) - that addresses just one of the many concerns raised by PRC.

AB 22 would ban credit checks from being used in the screening process for most job candidates. Clearly this bill is about a lot more than privacy, it strikes at the heart of the increasing shift away from the rights of workers, and the increasing power of corporations and big employers.

As pointed out by bill proponents, including the Consumer Federation of California, when companies vet potential employees they often check everything from grade point average to criminal records. More and more, they are starting to factor in a person's credit rating as well. But given this economy, this practice is both unfair and counterproductive. The fact is, a credit report is not a good indicator of a person's trustworthiness or work ethic, particularly considering how many people's credit scores have suffered due to the Great Recession.

AB 22 as also a primary target of one of the more corrupt corporate lobbying organizations this country has ever known - the California Chamber of Commerce. In fact, they even made a video about it, listing it as one of their job killer bills.

All it does is simply prohibit most employers from conducting credit checks on applicants, unless it is substantially related to the job. For example, employers could still run credit reports on those potentially gaining access to confidential financial information. AB 22 will mean stronger privacy protections, a more fair work environment, and an easier time securing employment. 

So, this was an easy bill to support. It even provides exceptions in cases when the job duties include access to cash or other financial assets, when the job is in law enforcement and in other narrow areas. An employer should not have any right to obtain confidential information that is not germane to a prospective employee’s job. Credit reports do not have predictive value in determining a worker’s ability to perform job duties, but a bad credit report might unfairly influence a hiring employer’s attitude toward a job applicant. 

Unemployed workers are more likely to have suffered some downgrading of their credit score due to the circumstances of their unemployment; hence reliance on credit reports as a factor in hiring decisions might adversely impact those most in need of a job. 

Credit reports are often inaccurate, and could unfairly bias an employer. Correcting mistaken information in a credit report is a tedious, time consuming process, and in the meantime, the job applicant is harmed due to errors by credit reporting entities.

But there's more to the story when it comes to the infringement on the rights of workers by employers. PRC has more: 

Whether you are hired or promoted for a job may depend on the information revealed in a background check. Job applicants and existing employees as well as volunteers may be asked to submit to background checks. For some jobs, screening is required by federal or state law. The current emphasis on security and safety has dramatically increased the number of employment background checks conducted.

In short, employers are being cautious. At the same time, applicants and employees fear that employers can dig into the past in ways that have nothing to do with the job.

This guide explains the why and how of background checks. It also tells you what can be covered in a background report, your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and what you can do to prepare. For more information, go to the References section at the end of this guide. The PRC does not perform background checks.

  1. Why Does an Employer Conduct a Background Check?
  2. What Is Included in a Background Check?
  3. What Cannot be in a Background Check Report?
  4. Who Conducts Background Checks?
  5. Fair Credit Reporting Act and Background Checks
  6. FCRA Update: Workplace Investigations and Annual File Disclosures
  7. Background Checks and Your Credit Report
  8. Investigative Consumer Reports - What Will Your Neighbors Say?
  9. How to Prepare for a Background Check
  10. Resources
It's important to point out, just as when people say "why should I care about being wiretapped, I'm not doing anything wrong!",  its the same when people don't seem concerned about background investigations. Let's remember, what YOU think about your history and actions isn't necessarily what might come up, what others might say, or what the government/corporations might interpret. In addition, when did it become okay for some investigator poking around into your personal history?

As PRC correctly points out, "In-depth background checks could unearth information that is irrelevant, taken out of context, or just plain wrong. A further concern is that the report might include information that is illegal to use for hiring purposes or which comes from questionable sources."

And back to the credit check bill, because PRC has some important points to make on why this is important as well:

Often a poor credit rating results from circumstances that are beyond your control. The loss of a job or high medical bills often leads to late payments, even bankruptcy. Still a bank or other financial institution may reason that a solid financial history is a qualifying factor for an employee who has control over substantial sums of money.

However, the same argument cannot be made when a credit check serves only as a kind of character screening. Some states have now recognized the unfairness in this by adopting laws that require a direct relationship to the job before a credit check is made.

Several states have passed laws limiting credit reports for employment decisions with provisions that require a nexus to actual job duties. Those states are: Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and Connecticut. Similar laws have been introduced in other states.

Finally, let me make one more point from an economic justice perspective. Just how much influence and power do we want to give the banks and credit rating agencies? Do we want our very employment futures dependent on THEIR analysis of our worthiness??? Based on their list of criteria rather than PROVEN lists of what makes a good employee, like education, references, interview ability, and employment history? To that end, let me just briefly expose the grand hypocrisy of the Chamber of Commerce selling themselves as protectors of jobs...and the leading opposition to AB 22:

As the Center for America Progress notes, "While it tells the American public it cares about American jobs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actually works to send jobs overseas on behalf of its corporate members, which include some of Asia’s top offshoring companies. Its secretly-funded $75 million political ad campaign attacks the “anti-jobs record” of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Alexi Giannoulias (D-IL), Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), and others. 

As ThinkProgress previously noted, the Chamber has repeatedly sent out issue alerts attacking Democratic efforts to encourage businesses to hire locally rather than outsource to foreign counties. The Chamber has also bitterly fought Democrats for opposing unfettered free trade deals. The Chamber’s anti-American jobs agenda serves not only the profit-seeking of right-wing corporate executives in the United States, but also works to send jobs overseas to the following outsourcing companies, who are some of the dozens of foreign corporations that pay member dues to the Chamber of Commerce’s 501c(6) account, which is used to fund its political ads:

– InfoSys, Bangalore, India (at least $15,000 in annual member dues): “Infosys is the ‘Best Outsourcing Partner’ according to the Waters Rankings for the third consecutive year.”
– KPIT Cummins, Pune, India ($7,500): “Strategic global networking, together with industry-proven practices & processes, give KPIT Cummins a cutting edge in the realm of outsourcing.”
– Patni Americas, Mumbai, India ($15,000): “Patni, the world leader in IT outsourcing and business process outsourcing provides offshore software development, global sourcing, custom software development, and a vast array of product engineering and IT services to companies worldwide.”
– NIIT Technologies, Delhi, India ($15,000): “[L]eadership in the area of outsourcing.”
– QuEST Global, Singapore ($7,500): “QuEST is a leader in the engineering services outsourcing (ESO) space.”
– Rolta, Mumbai, India ($7,500): “Rolta’s global footprint and track record along with its capable off-shoring model gives it a unique positioning in this large market.”
– SKP Crossborder Consulting, Mumbai, India ($7,500): “SKP’s core outsourcing practice is managed out of a fully equipped, spacious premises based in Pune with access to facilities in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore.”
– Tata Group, Mumbai, India ($15,000): “[W]orld-class solutions in outsourcing – business process outsourcing, application outsourcing, infrastructure outsourcing.”
Wipro, Bangalore, India ($15,000): “India’s biggest destination for U.S. offshoring.” 

Let's start to put workers and common sense...and privacy ahead of corporate profits and their insatiable desire to make money for their shareholders rather than protect employees or improve the quality of life of working families.

The Consumer Federation of California urges the Governor to protect the financial privacy of Californians from unwarranted snooping by prospective employers by signing AB 22. And, be sure to learn everything you can about your rights from PRC's comprehensive expose.


Amber N. Yoo, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said...

What a great post! Thank you so much for highlighting our video!

ZJK said...

Hey Amber! You're very welcome...thank you for all the great work you guys do...