Category Archives: background checks

Concern Mounts over Expected EEOC Guidances

With the timing of their actual issuance still hanging in the balance, two widely anticipated background-check guidance documents from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are fanning some major flames.

Just last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget saying the EEOC “is now preparing to approve” the two guidance documents — one pertaining to credit-history information and the other to criminal-history information — “without making them available for public comments and without seeking review by the OMB.”

The letter strongly recommends the OMB be given a chance to review them, as it does other complex or controversial EEOC guidance documents. It also notes that, while the EEOC has held public meetings on the two topics at hand, the guidances themselves have not been addressed in a public notice or been afforded public comments in and of itself.

Here is a brief report from the Society for Human Resource Management about the letter, which includes concerns that the documents “will remove or significantly limit the use of two important tools that employers use in hiring and related decisions.”

Here is what we posted on HREOnline back in August 2011 after the EEOC held hearings on the role arrest and conviction records should and shouldn’t play in the hiring process. That story, by Dave Shadovitz, is chock-full of comments, some in favor of addressing the negative consequences criminal records have on employment opportunities and some stressing the need to tread ever-so lightly on employers.

I found this alert, posted on the Squire Sanders website just Monday, illustrating that latter concern quite well, including fears the new guidance “will significantly curtail the practice of checking a job candidate’s criminal or credit history, placing the burden on the employer to demonstrate a legitimate business need.” The alert also urges employers to “take this opportunity to ensure that their background-check practices are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and with state-specific laws and restrictions.”

I did reach out to the EEOC as well and got this note back from Christine Saah Nazer, acting director of communications: “I can tell you that we did receive the letter from the Chamber. The fact is, the Commission has held public meetings on employer use of credt and criminal-background checks and has solicited input from all stakeholder perspectives, and will continue to do so as we examine these issues. I have no information about any new guidance.”

I did not take her last sentence to mean this was all much ado about nothing.


Discussion, But No Consensus from Summit Panelists

Panelists at the 3rd Annual Cornell University Executive Summit took up the issues of “changing demographics” and “social media and HR” — the two topics selected from a list of 12 by attendees at the HR in Hospitality™ Conference for a wide-ranging discussion.

There were lots of opinions by the group of 11 HR leaders and attorneys on the panel about the use of social media for recruiting, engagement, training, screening, to reconnect with alumni, you name it.

There was little controversy about its use for recruiting; using it for screening candidates was another story.

A.J. Kamra, corporate director of HR at Dow Hotel Co., said he questioned the judgment of candidates who posted inappropriate information that was visible to him — and he wouldn’t want to hire them.

Some others, including Alan Momeyer, VP of HR at Loews Corp., said they had better things to do than “trolling the Internet” looking for such information. “What is extremely offensive about someone in their 20s having a drink?” he asked.

Even when you’re not looking for information, however, you can sometimes find it — such as discovering from a Facebook status that a supervisor is dating a subordinate — but many of the panelists said HR professionals should forget about the medium. Just treat the matter the same as if they had learned the information otherwise, they said.

“Technology is just the means that exposes and creates that conversation. … It could easily happen over email or any other form,” said Robert Mellwig, senior vice president of human resources at Destination Hotels & Resorts.

As for social media policies, two attorney panelists — Paul Wagner, a shareholder at Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner, and Gregg Gilman, a partner at Davis & Gilbert — disagreed on whether such policies should include any reference to the right of employees to criticize the company via the Internet, per recent National Labor Relations Board rulings.

Wagner thought HR should include a provision that requires such criticism to be “done respectfully.” Gilman disagreed, saying “respectfully” was too “ambiguous” a term, and that “at the end of the day … [the issue will devolve to] ‘did the employee go over the line?’ ”

Patricia Smith, senior VP of organizational design and HR at The Leading Hotels of the World, said HR should not take an “unempowered approach,” which results in being reactive instead of proactive in regard to social media.

“It’s here. It’s going to happen. It’s happening. Why not take an empowered approach?” she said.

Greg Smith, executive vice president of HR at Denihan Hospitality Group, agreed: “If you don’t embrace it, you risk losing your competitive edge.”

When talking about the changing demographics of the workforce, the discussion focused on the diverse needs of all ages, from Gen Yers beginning their work careers and those pre-retirement workers who can’t afford to retire, to mid-career employees who don’t want to uproot their families and relocate to continue their career progressions.

Mellwig said his organization has explored a “teacher pay model,” in one area that needs seasonal managers, so they are paid for nine months of work instead of 12 months. The flexibility suits the managers as well as the organization, he said.

Debbie Brown, VP of HR for the Americas at Four Seasons, said there are 11 moves generally required before an individual is made a general manager, but her organization has been looking at a “compressed career path,” which would require only four, providing for some of the progressions to take place without a relocation.

Several of the HR leaders spoke about the need to customize jobs, as well as the need to forget generational stereotypes — and focus on the individual and his or her career aspirations and abilities.

“We sometimes typecast our team members” said Momeyer, “… and we don’t look at them as individual talents … .”

Real Change or No Change At All?

Starting tomorrow in Philadelphia, which is just a short drive from our office here in Horhsam, most employers will be barred from asking job candidates about their criminal history . . . but only until after the first interview.

According to the story on

The ordinance prohibits any business in the city that employs more than 10 people from asking job-seekers either on their application or during their first interview if they have any criminal convictions.

Courts, prisons and the Police Department are exempt from the law.

According to the story, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said last April when he signed the bill into law that its intent is to give ex-offenders a fair shot at being considered for jobs for which they’d otherwise be qualified.

More from the story:

The ordinance, introduced by former Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, notes that one-fifth of Philadelphians have criminal records.

“It gets your foot in the door, but it doesn’t guarantee employment,” said Deputy Commerce Director Kevin Dow, who’s been reaching out to business leaders across the city to explain the new law.

Employers are allowed to perform background checks on applicants and ask whether they’ve been convicted of a crime once they get beyond the first interview, said Rue Landau, the executive director of the city’s Commission on Human Relations.

Employers who violate the law will at first receive a warning notice from the commission and be given 30 days to rectify their error.

Recalcitrant employers could face a $2,000 fine every time they violate “Ban the Box,” the story concludes.

One commenter on the story, steelmanpa, says the law is protecting the wrong people:

This [law] is so wrong. It is a waste of employers time and money in a cash strapped economy for the few that will hire. Its always about protecting the rights of the CONVICTED criminals, never the victims or the potential victims they prey upon . . .

But another commenter, thatbawl, takes a more literary view of the law:

This is a catch-22. I understand why people do not want to hire ex-cons but if they cannot get employment, won’t they just go back to committing more crimes? Everyone has to have a means to live.

While the spirit of this law is admirable, I admit my own skepticism about how effective it will be in ultimately getting more ex-cons back into the working world, given the dim view most of us hold about convicts.

So, will this law eventually be seen as a real first step in getting convicted criminals back into the workforce, or just another Band-Aid on a broken leg?

Only time will tell . . .


High-School Diploma Requirement May Violate ADA

Wow! The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has added yet another wrinkle to the hiring process and has taken us that much further away from “the way it used to be.”

In this informal letter, issued Nov. 17, the EEOC has warned that requiring a high-school diploma from a job applicant might violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because the requirement could effectively screen out anyone unable to graduate because of a learning disability.

“Under the ADA,” the letter states, “a qualification standard, test, or other selection criterion, such as a high-school diploma requirement, that screens out an individual or a class of individuals on the basis of a disability must be job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.

“A qualification standard,” it says, “is job-related and consistent with business necessity if it accurately measures the ability to perform the job’s essential functions (i.e. its fundamental duties). Even where a challenged qualification standard, test, or other selection criterion is job-related and consistent with business necessity, if it screens out an individual on the basis of disability, an employer must also demonstrate that the standard or criterion cannot be met, and the job cannot be performed, with a reasonable accommodation.”

This legal alert from Ballard Spahr points out that “the informal letter, although not an official opinion, demonstrates that the hiring process can present a minefield of obstacles for employers.”

No kidding. I can only imagine what the job applications I filled out “back in the day” would look like if all discriminatory “mines” were ommitted. Name, address and Social Security number perhaps?

At least this would cut down on all the frantic phone calls to parents from teens and 20-somethings sitting in HR offices: “Hey, what month and year did I graduate high school again???” Oh, you didn’t get those? I did.

HR Bloggy Goodness

For some post-candy, pre-turkey goodness, we’ve got a lot of interesting — let’s even say, colorful, since we still have some beautiful fall foliage here in the East — blog posts for you to read from this, our first hosting of the Carnival of HR.

I was putting this together while listening to tunes on my iPod, thus the subheads, which are all songs — although only one of them is on my playlist (and it’s probably the one few of you know; hint: it’s by Randy Newman).

Since this is the season, I guess the first post should be about the flu. Nancy Saperstone of Insight Performance’s Workplace of Choice Blog points out HR’s vital role in keeping employees healthy and productive.

Speaking of vital roles, should HR be skilled at gathering information on competitors? Mark Stelzner at Inflexion Advisors offers up some thoughts — but no simple answers — on capturing competitive intelligence.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing, like respect. John Hunter at Curious Cat Blog writes about practical ways to respect co-workers and colleagues, while Ian Welsh at HR Toolbox says employee relations is the key to HR success.

 Everybody’s Talking at Me

Tim Gardner at the HR Introvert explores the “cult” factor in a company’s culture and Doug Shaw at Stop Doing Dumb Things To Customers just wants to sing about work and not in a good way, as evidenced the title, Crap Engagement.

Maybe you’re not into singing your heart out, but still want to communicate? Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace suggests you take your communication cues from your audience and “meet people where they are.”

One critical skill, writes Trish McFarlane of HR Ringleader, is mastering the art of negotiation — and she offers some practical tips to successfully enhance that competency, while Jennifer V. Miller at The People Equation writes that HR’s role in the workplace is similar in ways to curating an art competition.

 Leader of the Pack

Moving from the art world to the workplace, Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership writes that managers must enjoy enabling workers — if they are to be effective at their jobs. Want much more detail? Tanmay Vora at QAspire Blog provides 25 ways to effectively facilitate business strategies.

To create high-performing organizations, Laura Schroeder at Working Girl offers a list of questions that HR should ponder before making any workforce decisions, and Jon Ingham at Strategic HCM writes about human-centric management.

Humans are not created equal, I guess, as Ben Eubanks at upstart HR looks at some gender preferences for male and female bosses.

There’s also a difference, writes Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership, between leaders and managers. And there’s a difference between good succession plans and bad ones, writes Lois Melbourne at Aquire Blog.

Lonely at the Top

Carol Morrison at i4cp’s TrendWatcher writes about leadership competencies — and if companies are taking aim at the right ones or missing the target altogether — while Mike Haberman at Omega HR Solutions explores five powerful leadership lessons.

One of those lessons, writes Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context, should point out the important reasons to engage in social media.

We can segue from there into HR technology, which is where Naomi Bloom at In Full Bloom puts on her turban and does an imitation of Carnac the Magnificent by providing answers to 2011’s unknown questions. (Full disclosure: I met Johnny Carson once and she doesn’t look anything like him!)

 On The Road Again

John Sumser at HR Examiner, on the other hand, did an imitation of a nonstop traveler, and even though it lasted only seven weeks, it pointed him to some insights about mobile recruiting.

The insights offered up by Paul Baribeau at Workplace Tribes Blog involve those impacting HR strategies at a game development start-up.

Paul Smith at Welcome to the Occupation says HR can do better when it comes to recruiting disabled job candidates; Joe Jones at The Rainmaker Group’s Maximize Possibility Blog says ditto about leveraging the sales-talent selection process; and Mike McCarty of Safe Hiring Solutions says ibid on adding value to employment background checks.

We will close out this section on recruiting with an infographic from Joseph Fung at Tribe HR, exploring whether job boards matter anymore to the recruiting process and we’ll close out this issue of Carnival of HR with a blog post by Lynn Dessert at Elephants at Work on the importance of saying thank you.

So, thanks to everyone who participated in this Carnival of HR — and to everyone reading this. I hope you find this HR bloggy goodness is something to sing about.

And while you’re here, please scroll around The Leader Board. Some of our recent posts include this report from The Conference Board’s Human Capital Metrics Conference; the induction of three new Fellows as well as the induction of IBM’s Randy MacDonald as a Distinguished Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources; and a bit of Romance, HR-Style.

EEOC Mulls Fairness of Criminal Background Screens

Attorneys, government officials and other experts met in Washington Tuesday (July 26) to testify before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the pros and cons, and fairness and safety concerns, of using arrest and conviction records when making hiring decisions.

Employers often refuse to hire people with criminal records, the commission was told, even years after they’ve completed their sentences, leading to recidivism and higher social-services costs.

“This major barrier to employment touches a broad swath of the U.S. population,” said Amy Solomon, senior adviser to the assistant attorney general of the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice. “According to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 92 million individuals have a criminal history on file in state criminal-history repositories.

“This figure is for year end 2008,” she testified, “and may include individuals with records in more than one state. That said, with about 14 million new arrests recorded annually, it is clear that a significant share of the nation’s adult population — estimated at about one in three or four adults — has a criminal record on file.

“Many arrests are for relatively minor crimes,” Solomon testified. “And what is often forgotten is that many people who have been arrested –and therefore technically have a criminal record that shows up on a background check — have never been convicted of a crime. This is true not only for those charged with minor crimes, but also for individuals arrested for serious offenses. A snapshot of felony filings in the 75 largest counties, for example, shows that one-third of felony arrests never lead to conviction.”

Barry A. Hartstein, a shareholder in the law firm of San Francisco-based Littler, testified on the confusing and often contradictory pressures on businesses when using these records for hiring purposes, including conflicting laws. He urged the EEOC to consider these constraints on businesses when developing guidance or when deciding when to sue companies or not.

“My basic premise,” said Hartstein, “is that any discussion of an individual’s criminal history in the employment setting must be put in the proper context. It is multi-dimensional, ever changing, with no easy answers or any standard formula, such as ‘one size fits all.’ ”

The EEOC provided me with this link to all details of the meeting, including a press release and full written testimony from all participants. The commission will hold the meeting record open for 15 days and is inviting members of the public to submit written comments on any issues or matters discussed.

What’s New at the Expo

To be sure, the number of new product announcements at SHRM doesn’t come close to approaching those made our own HR Technology® Conference, to be held this October 3 through 5.  But for whatever reason, there seemed to be a bunch more launches this year than we’ve grown accustomed to.

Not surprisingly, two of the announcements involved mobile solutions. I say not surprisingly because we’ve seen a wave of vendors that have made this a top priority in recent months.

Yesterday, I was briefed on a mobile solution from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a supplier of employment-screening solutions. The app provides recruiters and prospects access to the process via remote devices in an effort to speed up the background-screening process.

Meanwhile, the former Peopleclick Authoria, which unveiled its new name, Peoplefluent, at the conference yesterday, announced this morning Fluency on the Move, its mobile product line that’s intended to give managers remote “access to relevant and correlated data about their people.”  Initially, four mobile products were released, including Workforce Explorer, Manager Compensation Assistant, Manager Guidebook and Candidate Explorer.

I also was briefed this morning on two other new recruiting products.

Halogen Software announced its anticipated recruitment entry, eRecruitment, an applicant tracking system that integrates with the firm’s other talent-management modules. Like other Halogen products, eRecruitment was “organically built,” points out Donna Ronayne, the company’s vice president of marketing. General availability is slated for August.

And the RPO provider The RightThing launched RightThingRecruit, a recruitment technology platform, for prospects just looking for a technology solution, that addresses sourcing, recruiting, contact relationship management, applicant tracking, onboarding and reporting. CEO Terry Terhart, who says business has been strong for the company, cites flexibility and speed of implementation as two key differentiators.

Granted, jobs may be slow to come back. But suppliers haven’t slowed down their efforts to build out their offerings.

To Tell the Truth

Should we expect the next innovation in screening technology to come from, of all places, Russia?

A story appearing on today’s New York Times’ front page, entitled “Russia A.T.M. With an Ear for the Truth,” reports on how Russia’s biggest retail bank is testing the use of ATMs with voice-recognition software to determine whether or not someone is telling the truth.

The software, developed by the Speech Technology Center, analyzes “vibrations as shaped by the contours of an individual’s throat, larynx and other tissue involved in speech” to identify whether a person might be in the midst of telling a lie. Russian law-enforcement databases of people found to be lying were used to develop the software. (No doubt the voice-recognition technology is more sophisticated than some of the stuff I’ve encounter in my quest for customer-service help.)

Banks would use the analysis, along with other data collected by the ATM, to determine the truthfulness of applicants when they’re answering questions about whether they have a job or any outstanding loans.

Of course, this has nothing to do with HR. But as I read the NYT’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder whether some day we might see technology like this make its way into the job-interviewing process, where more than a few candidates have been known to stretch the truth. Companies already do thorough background checks of job candidates. So how about a little voice analysis to boot?

I’ll be the first to admit that’s a scary thought. And I imagine legality and privacy concerns would present some serious stumbling blocks. But in this day and age, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibilities.