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The Bozeman City Commission called a special meeting last night to decide whether the city should hire a third party investigator to look into the hiring practices of the city’s human resources, police and fire departments after the city drew worldwide criticism for requiring job applicants to provide passwords to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook on …

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Power to the people! It sounds like the city of Bozeman, MT was sufficiently bombarded with phone calls and emails objecting to their practice of asking job applicants to supply user names and passwords to their social networking sites after the media and bloggers excoriated them. The city announced late Friday that it will suspend this practice.

City Manager, Chris Kukulski was quoted as saying the policy, “appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community”. He probably should have also included “acceptable in the free world” in addition to his community.

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We’re all for employment background checks, but it is important to protect the rights of job candidates in the process.

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Social Media Background Checks

Why, oh why do state governments feel the need to waste valuable time and tax payer money enacting laws that prevent employers from requiring access to the social media accounts of current or prospective employees?

HRMagazine is reporting that New Hampshire became the 18th state this past August to adopt such legislation and that similar bills have been introduced in at least 28 states.

Here’s my take- this is a waste of time because this is not a widespread trend among employers. In fact, I’ve yet to come across an employer who demands this of their candidates and employees. Whatever they are going to find isn’t worth the negative candidate experience or media attention this practice creates.

Where we have seen this, we’ve found that candidates stop applying for jobs and the media absolutely eviscerates the employer. Check out what happened in Bozeman, Montana several years ago. As soon as their practices of asking for social media passwords came to light, it took them about 2.5 seconds to rethink their policy. That was in 2009. The only other instance I’ve seen is from the White House. That’s right.  If you want to work for President Obama, beware that you’ll be asked to share your deepest and darkest secrets on Facebook. And guess what? I’d think they were crazy if they didn’t ask.

Evidently, the federal government gets it. According to Eric Meyer of Dilworth Paxson LLP and “The Employer Handbook” blog (which is incredibly entertaining and educational), “There have already been two attempts to pass a federal social media workplace privacy. Both have stalled out.”

Our most recent marketplace trends survey shows that most employers aren’t even conducting social media background checks as part of their employment background screening process, let alone asking for candidates’ passwords (see below).

Does your organization conduct online media searches for candidates as part of your hiring process?

Social Media Background Checks

I want to be clear that I think the practice of asking for social media passwords is a joke. Employers shouldn’t do it. It’s a horrible invasion of privacy. But there are a lot of things employers shouldn’t (and aren’t doing) that the states don’t bother wasting time legislating. I know it sounds great for a politician trying to create a name for themselves, but let’s add this to the list.

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Let’s face it.  The economy is still a mess and people aren’t finding jobs fast enough.  Given this fact, there are a lot of people looking to place the blame for these developments.  And has been the case for the last several years, many are focusing on employment screening and background checks.  I won’t say that all who oppose background check are flat out wrong in every instance, but all too frequently they rely on myths, misconceptions and urban legends to support their arguments.

Here is my list of the most commonly held misconceptions about employment background checks:

  • Background Checks Are the Reason Unemployment Rates Are High- We’ll remove all politics from this one and simply state that a large contributor to unemployment besides a slow economic recovery is that employers are having a difficult time finding qualified people for the jobs that are available.
  • Employers Use Background Checks As An Excuse Not to Hire Someone- As Bob Barker might say, “The Price is wrong.”  Remember, company’s spend an awful lot of time, money and effort to find the right candidate for the job.  Why would they go out of their way not to hire the people they have invested these efforts in?
  • Anyone with a Criminal Record Will Never Be Hired- As Alex Trebek might say, “Oh sorry!”.   There are over 65 million people with criminal records in this country.  If all of those people were out of work, unemployment rates would be 6 times higher than they are now. According to our 2012 Background Screening Trends study, less than 10% of applicants with criminal records are denied employment.
  • Most Employers Pull All Applicant’s Reports- As Richard Dawson would say, “Survey says . . . buzzzz!”.  See SHRM study which reveals that only 13% of employers indicated they run credit on all applicants.
  • Employers Use Credit Score to Determine Employment Eligibility- As Pat Sajak would say, “‘Lose a Turn”‘ You were so close.”  Employers use what is referred to as an “Employment Credit Report” which does not include a credit score or account numbers.
  • Poor Credit Will Immediately Disqualify a Candidate- As Regis Philbin would say, “Is that your final answer?” If employers only hired people with good credit, they’d hardly be able to hire anyone
  • Applicants Aren’t Give a Chance to Dispute Findings- As Simon Cowell would say, “Seriously, that was awful.” By law, employers must provide a consumer with a free copy of their background check and allow them up to 30 days to dispute the results.
  • Employers Demand Passwords to Candidates’ Social Networking Sites- As Burt Convy would say, “The password is ‘Incorrect’”. While this has been in the news as of late, you will be hard pressed to find anyone doing this.  And the backlash to employers that do this, is enough to discourage them for considering it.  Check out a story we posted about the city of Bozeman, MT

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The Maryland ACLU is advocating on behalf of a Maryland corrections officer who objects to the state’s demand that he provide them with his Facebook account password as a condition of employment. Now, we know that it is becoming more and more common for employers to check out their candidates’ and employees’ Facebook pages as part of the background check process, but their passwords?

This didn’t work out so well for the city of Bozeman, MT a couple years ago. In fact, they had so much negative publicity when it came to national media attention that they abolished the practice shortly thereafter.

Check out the USA Today story below.

Worker Objects to the Use of Facebook for Background Checks

The American Civil Liberties Union is championing the case of a Maryland corrections officer, Robert Collins, who does not believe his employer should have the right to scour his personal Facebook account as a condition of employment.

The ACLU’s Maryland chapter sent this letter to state officials on Collins’ behalf. According the ACLU, the Maryland corrections division has a “blanket requirement” that job applicants, as well as current employees undergoing recertification, provide the government with their social media account usernames and personal passwords for use in background checks.

The ACLU in this blog post calls the policy “a gross breach of privacy” and a violation of state and federal law “which protect privacy rights and extend protections to electronic communications.”

As of late last week, the advocacy group had received no response from the state.


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Police Recruits Screened on Facebook

Published on 12 November 2010 by in Social Media


Come on guys, don’t you read our blog? BAD IDEA!!  Just call your counterparts in Bozeman, Montana and ask them how embarrassing it was when that story hit the news.

Police recruits screened for digital dirt on Facebook, etc.

By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

Law enforcement agencies are digging deep into the social media accounts of applicants, requesting that candidates sign waivers allowing investigators access to their Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter and other personal spaces.

Some agencies are demanding that applicants provide private passwords, Internet pseudonyms, text messages and e-mail logs as part of an expanding vetting process for public safety jobs.

More than a third of police agencies review applicants’ social media activity during background checks, according to the first report on agencies’ social media use by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the largest group of police executives. The report out last month surveyed 728 agencies.

“As more and more people join these networks, their activities on these sites become an intrinsic part of any background check we do,” said Laurel, Md., Police Chief David Crawford.

Privacy advocates say some background investigations, including requests for text message and e-mail logs, may go too far.

“I’m very uneasy about this,” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Where does it all stop?”

During the IACP’s conference last month in Orlando, about 100 chiefs and other law enforcement officials who attended sessions on vetting applicants’ social media use said they either request waivers and other personal information from applicants or are developing policies to do so.

Full Story

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We will kick off this weekends wrap up with a timely story from the National Football League (NFL).  Like my Cleveland Browns, the Oakland Raiders just can’t catch a break.  Fortunately for them they have a marker in the W column.  Unfortunately for them they have a bit of controversy off the field.  They are bracing for the possibility that coach Tom Cable could be arrested soon for an alleged assault on an assistant coach.  If charged, Cable could be suspended by the league.  If convicted Cable could run into serious problems if his next team decides to screen his criminal backgroundMore on that story here!

Making history today is Justice Sonia Sotomayor the first Hispanic justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Replacing retired Justice David Souter she will begin the new term with some interesting cases.  Background checks and gun laws will definitely be on their docket this year.  Most notably will be McDonald v. Chicago.  In 2008, the justices ruled in a case from the District of Columbia that the Second Amendment bestows an individual right to keep and bear arms. Because the case originated in a federal enclave, the justices passed on the question of whether the Second Amendment also applies to states, thus calling into question gun regulations in those jurisdictions. The justices have now taken up this question and are expected to decide whether citizens in Chicago — which has one of the most restrictive gun regulation regimes in the country — also enjoy the same Second Amendment rights as do their brethren in the District. This case was recently granted and is expected to be heard some time in early 2010.

In workplace violence news Forbes Magazine ran a story, Experts: US worker-on-worker violence under-reported.  Stemming from the murder at Yale Universtiy of Annie Le, they write about some interesting statistics.  Workplace homicide has dropped dramatically, to 444 such cases last year from twice as many in 1995, according to government statistics. And most of those deaths occur in robberies of taxi drivers and clerks. The worker-on-worker homicide rate hovers around a hundred a year nationwide, leaving little data to help predict who is likely to kill a co-worker, said Tom Tripp, co-author of “Getting Even: The Truth About Workplace Revenge.” More on this story Click Here

In a follow up to a story we wrote about extensively a few months back….Investigator: Bozeman’s Internet background checks weren’t voluntary.  If you remember this one, the City of Bozeman MT was asking job applicants to supply investigators with their passwords so they could access their Facebook and Myspace accounts as part of the pre-employment screening process.  The city suspended the policy in June of 2009 after they came under fire for the practice.  However, it appears as part of their investigation into the procedure they have found hiring managers got carried away with the practice! More on this story Click Here

This one should scare you if you have elderly relatives in Florida.  Florida lawmakers vow changes after learning of laxness, loopholes in checking child and elder care workers – Florida legislators pledged to overhaul state law to require that caregivers for children and the elderly undergo background checks before they begin work and to close loopholes that have let thousands of felons get jobs in day care and nursing homes.

The proposed reforms come after a Sun Sentinel investigative series last week identified disturbing flaws in the background screening system that allow people to work with Florida’s most vulnerable residents before the caregivers have been vetted. More on this story Click Here

And finally a Kidnapping plot proves the importance of background checks.  The man accused of plotting to kidnap two young girls from a bus stop and hold them for ransom made his first appearance in court on Friday.

Police say Ruben Garcia-Rosario parked his car near the girls’ bus stop to take pictures of them. Rosario is an illegal immigrant who had done some painting at the family’s house, according to investigators.

Would you let someone in your house without properly screening them?

More on this story Click Here

Well that’s it!  Have a great week and check back regularly for stories and comments in the background screening world!

If you have stories you would like us to blog about or post please feel free to email us at

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myspace_facebook_calendarTwo great blog postings from two great online legal sources.  The first by Jon Hyman of Korman, Jackson and Krantz talks about a restaurants liability of firing employees after reading their Myspace posts.  This does not fit with our argument about not using it for background screening prior to hiring but it is closely related.  If you read our story about Bozeman Montana you will see how this jury finding is important and timely.  The practice of requiring employees to divulge their passwords violated the Stored Communications Act.

The second story comes from the Legal Blog Watch.  In it, 69 year old human rights activist Khedija Arfaoui is facing an eight month jail sentence in Tunisia for posting a message on Facebook about rumors of children being kidnapped in the country for their organs.  Enjoy!

Jon Hyman Blog

Carolyn Elefant Blog

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Just found this great interview with attorney Jacqueline Klosek from Goodwin Procter about the dangers of using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace for employment screening purposes.  Among the topics discussed is troubling screening policy adopted and later rescinded by the city of Bozeman, MT.

Create Job Applicant Screening Policies Upfront- by Lora Bentley, IT Business Edge

Bentley: I’ve read about the public outcry that resulted from the City of Bozeman, Mont.’s decision to ask job applicants for their social networking site user names and passwords. Obviously, there are enough problems associated with that practice that the city discontinued it. Can you explain?

Klosek: It’s just, in my mind, fraught with legal dangers. For example, what you post on your own Web site, the writings and photos and such, you’re really using someone else’s service. And for the most part, if you provide your password to the sites in which you participate, you could be violating their terms of use, which could leave you as the user subject to potential claims, including termination of your account or worse.

Then, as an employer, say you ask someone for their user name and password and then give it to another employee to do the screening, you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do with that information. With the user name and password, they’re basically impersonating the person whose account it is. They can send e-mails that purport to be on that person’s behalf, they can review e-mails that were sent from other people… It could be mundane personal communications, but there could also be trade secrets being exchanged, or a host of other things behind these protected e-mails. It’s just a minefield of dangers, in my view.

Bentley: What if you are using the Internet to screen prospective employees without their user names and passwords? Aren’t there still risks in doing that?

Klosek: A great majority of potential employers do screen applicants using at least publicly available portions of the Internet. In some respects, there can be meaningful information on some of those sites, but you’re right to suggest there are risks in doing so. The biggest risk is that you may find too much information — information that, as a prospective employer, it may be dangerous for you to have.

For example, laws that we have in the States would prohibit inquiring or basing employment decisions on factors such as age, family status (whether or not you were looking to have children) …. Most employers are well-versed in avoiding those topics in the employment process, but they may access that information online.


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That Was Fast

Published on 22 June 2009 by in Data Privacy, Social Media


City apologizes, stops asking for Internet passwords

The city of Bozeman has stopped asking job applicants for their log-in information to online groups and social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

However, the city has only suspended, pending “a more comprehensive evaluation,” its practice of reviewing information found on password-protected sites, City Manager Chris Kukulski said, leaving open the possibility that it might find other ways to look at the sites.

The city ended the policy as of noon Friday because the city “appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community,” Kukulski said. “We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the city of Bozeman.”

Acting Mayor Jeff Krauss said he expects the Bozeman City Commission will be reviewing the city’s hiring manual line by line.

“We might want to see what other interesting things are in there that we might have to address,” he said.

As for finding other ways to look at social-networking sites as part of evaluating a job candidate’s suitability for a city job, Kukulski defended that approach.

“We will continue to do our full due diligence to review any public information that we can get our hands on to research potential employees,” he said.

Read more here.

For the last few days, any internet surfer would be hard pressed to find a media outlet that DID NOT pick up this story. A few days after the story breaks and the town walks it back. But it sounds like they’re trying to have their cake and eat it to. In the face of intensely negative public opinion, they backed down, but only by “suspending” the practice, maintaining it was designed to elicit valuable information that is useful when making a hiring decision. They continue to state other practices that are useful toward achieving those ends will be considered.

But will this process reappear once TV reporters stop calling?

Look, I admire the intent to find information that allows them to hire qualified candidates who will keep the community safe and serve the people with honor and integrity. Too many companies are looking to cut corners these days. Hoping their candidate doesn’t have a criminal record rather than checking it.  Wishing a degree comes from an accredited University and not a Diploma Mill. But there’s a line here. I wonder if the town feels they might just have crossed it.

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