6/12/2010 Rochester considers expanded background checks for job applicants (Democrat and Chronicle)


June 12, 2010- Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

“The FBI database never was intended for employment screening purposes and, by some estimates, contains only 55 percent of all criminal records, said Nick Fishman, chief marketing officer for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreenIQ, one of the nation’s oldest backgrounding firms with more than 3,000 clients worldwide. Records in the FBI database typically are arrest records, not showing whether the outcome was conviction, dismissal or acquittal.

State checks depend on local courts to report cases and outcomes.

Not every conviction is a bar to employment, officials said, and if something shows up on a report that is a concern for the job being sought, it is incumbent on local officials to follow up to learn details, including the outcome. Fishman argues that the best check is to search an applicant’s past addresses and go directly to the county, city or town courts where that person has lived.

“The term ‘background check’ is so vague,” he said, “and a lot of people don’t have a good understanding about what is a comprehensive search.”

Part-time and seasonal workers would face the same cost, as would employees changing job functions and titles, but the city would pick up the expense.

“Are we saying we are going to be fingerprinting every potential hire?” City Council member Carolee Conklin asked during a recent budget hearing.

“That’s a possibility that we are exploring,” said Mike Oliveri, the city’s acting director of human resource management.

Changes are being made in response to a November 2009 case in which a newly hired male employee allegedly raped a woman while at work. The city had hired the man four months earlier, though he admitted on his application that he had a prison record. Mayor Robert Duffy called the allegations “horrendous” and ordered an overhaul of hiring practices.

If expanded, the checks would be done when a conditional offer of employment was made. Oliveri estimated that each check would cost $94.

“That’s a very, not only invasive policy, but an expensive one,” Conklin said.

City officials have budgeted an additional $17,100, bringing the total set aside for background checks to $54,500. The expanded checks would require fingerprints to tap state and federal criminal databases. Currently, the city relies on a check of local records for nearly all hires, doing state searches on 911 dispatchers, and state and federal searches for firefighters and police officers.