Supreme Court to Decide Employee Background Checks

Posted October 4, 2010 in Government by Arthur Buono

Has your employer implemented periodic security checks of your criminal and credit history? The Supreme Court hears arguments tomorrow in a case filed by some NASA contractors who say the government can’t snoop into their personal lives for employment purposes. While the government’s action is at issue here, the decision could set a tone for the private employment relationship too.

  • Supreme Court to decide if NASA can probe backgrounds of nonsensitive employees
  • Background checks in private sector increasingly common
  • Make sure your credit report does not contain any damaging errors


NASA Contractors Resist Background Screening

Full disclosure: What timing! My employer checks up on me every couple of years. I just signed a digital consent to query my criminal history and credit report. And our parent company, Reed Elsevier, has filed a friend of the court brief in support of employee background checks (pdf).

The NASA contractors say that whatever security concerns the government has don’t apply to them. They work on unclassified, nonsensitive stuff, and don’t have security clearances. Why should the government get to find out if they’ve had counseling or treatment for illegal drug use in the past year? Beyond the narrow issue of employment screening, the case could provide some insight on this Court’s view of the Constitutional right to privacy.

An employer has a strong interest in an employee’s background. Knowing that an employee or job candidate’s been convicted of embezzlement will weigh, to say the least, in the decision to place him in the accounting department. A day care center better not hire a convicted child molester.

Similarly, a company like Reed Elsevier, which has units that conduct background checks for private and public employers, has a strong interest in knowing its employees will properly safeguard the information it collects in this business. So there are lots of good reasons for background checks. The question is, is any information about you off limits? Knowing your employer may want to look, you’d better make sure your background reports don’t contain any mistakes that could damage your reputation.

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