After the recent Navy Yard shooting, employee background checks got national attention. A Reuters’ article explains that the U.S. Navy was not aware of the specifics of the shooter’s criminal history in Seattle. The Navy may have been aware of his recent interactions with police due to his hearing voices. Both the criminal and medical history could have made a difference if the Navy had known or acted upon them. Most employers do not face the same level of security needs or safety expectations as the U.S. Navy, but that does not mean that employers never have these concerns. Federal, state and local laws help employers and their employees address these concerns.
Most companies run background checks on their potential employees for many reasons. Employers need to know if there are any potential dangers in the hiring an individual, for the safety of the potential employee, other employees, and customers. Background checks also determine if a potential employee is qualified and able to perform the required tasks of the position. Some state and federal laws require background checks; for instance, companies with federal contracts or create products that could affect national security.
Criminal background checks provide information about potential safety or criminal concerns. An employer would want to know if an applicant for a cashier position has a history of theft, check fraud, or other financial crimes. Or if an employee, like the Navy Yard shooter, had a history of gun violence that would prevent getting a security clearance. However, the checks can become an automatic barrier to employment for some.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance on how criminal history may be used and when its use becomes discrimination. For the most part there are no federal laws and only a few states with laws specifically addressing criminal background checks. Seattle City Council’s “Job Assistance Bill,” addressed in an early post, goes into effect on November 1st and offers protections to potential job seekers with a criminal background. The law allows qualified Seattle job seekers to make it further into the hiring process since employers are not allowed to run the background check until after the initial screening.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Washington State discrimination laws prohibit employers from accessing medical records of employees or potential employees, with a few exceptions. The exceptions relate to determining whether the employee is able to do the required tasks and necessary accommodations. The ADA also allows employers to request “fitness for duty” examinations for employees after medical concerns arise. In the instance of the Navy Yard shooter, his hearing voices could have triggered a “fitness for duty” evaluation and placed him on temporary leave until they determined if he was a direct threat to the health and safety of himself or other employees.
Background checks can cover any number of areas in a potential employee’s life. They can protect all parties involved, but they can also cause concern for employers and employees. Experience employment law attorneys can be of assistance.