The Dangers of "do-it-yourself" Background Checks: Another Easy Way for Employers to Get Sued

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article on do-it-yourself  online background check sites that allow people to do their own background checks online. S ee:

In order to make sure that employers reading the article had an understanding of the impact of using these sites for employment screening purposes, ESR posted the followng brief comment on the WSJ site:

“Excellent article.  However, it underscores the dangers of “do-it-yourself” background checks for employment.  Employers need to realize that since job and livelihoods are at stake, background checks are legally regulated.  A federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as well as similar state laws regulates what background screening firms can do.  Even if an employer attempts this in-house, there are numerous ways for an unsuspecting employer to violate applicant’s rights and get sued.  For example, New York recently implemented a series of new law that affect how a criminal conviction can be used, and requires certain rights be given to applicants.  Discrimination laws in general impact the use of background data.  The use of bankruptcy information is potentially discriminatory and in violation of federal law.  There are also issues as to privacy and accuracy. This is one of those efforts that most employers leave in the hands of professionals.  Our firm’s website at  does contain a great deal of information on how to perform checks properly in the articles section. as well as the problems with employers trying to use Facebook or MySpace to make employment decisions.” 

Of course, the longer and more accurate story is that “do-it-yourself” background checks opens up a potential Pandora’s box of nightmares for employers.  The amount of legal difficulties an employer can get into is enormous.  Doing your own background checks is somewhat like trying to install your own electrical system in your house-it is possible, but fraught with danger.