Background checks are a common part of the modern hiring process: but what role should background checks play in hiring decisions? How much of what employers believe about the background check – and whether a candidate would make a good employee – is actually valid?
- the EEOC’s guidance on using an applicant’s criminal history
- what the courts have looked for in background check policies
- how to “validate” a criminal history policy
- and the conflict between current recidivism research and the EEOC’s guidance on the consideration of a job applicant’s criminal history
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Tell us a bit about you and your background. What drew you to this specific topic area of background checks?
Michael Aamodt: After receiving my Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Arkansas, I taught courses in both industrial-organizational psychology and forensic psychology at Radford University in Virginia. This unique combination of teaching courses about crime as well as employee behavior eventually lead to me studying the psychological and legal issues involved in the hiring of applicants with criminal records as well as serving as an expert witness in litigation regarding background checks.
There is a common belief among employers – and the courts –
that the more serious the crime,
the greater likelihood that an individual will recidivate or be a bad employee.
Surprisingly, some of the most serious crimes have the lowest recidivism rates!
JCH: Your webinar is specifically the use of background checks – which, while may be a standard process for many agencies — also have some serious considerations. Without giving away the whole webinar, help us understand perhaps the biggest issues around the use of background checks?
Mike: In the old days, many organizations had blanket policies that they would never hire applicants with a felony conviction. Times have changed and organizations with such policies are likely to get sued for race discrimination. Even if they limit their policies to certain types of crimes, they can still be sued and the burden is on the employer to justify the validity of its policy, a topic on which we will spend considerable time during the webinar.
JCH: What are the biggest misunderstanding employers/supervisors have about background checks?
Mike: There is a common belief among employers – and the courts – that the more serious the crime, the greater likelihood that an individual will recidivate or be a bad employee. Surprisingly, some of the most serious crimes have the lowest recidivism rates! Even more surprising is that ex-cons are as likely to recidivate by committing a crime that is very different from the one for which they were previously convicted. These are two of the factors that make using background information so difficult.
In the old days, many organizations had blanket policies
that they would never hire applicants with a felony conviction.
Times have changed and organizations with such policies
are likely to get sued for race discrimination.
JCH: Let’s flip that question now: what are the biggest misunderstandings applicants might have about the use of background checks in their hiring process?
Mike: Many applicants with a criminal record believe that they will never be hired if they admit to the conviction and thus lie on their employment application. With the changing landscape of employment law, an applicant is better off admitting the crime and then making the case that they are “reformed” and will actually be a good employee.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can put to use in their organizations?
Mike: Individuals attending the webinar will walk away with a better understanding of the legal risks associated with using background check information. They will also better be able to develop a background check policy that meets the needs of their organization, reduces legal risk, and treats applicants fairly.