San Francisco District Attorney Sues Home Services Website Over Alleged False Advertising of Background Checks

Hand and Checkmark

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The San Francisco district attorney has sued Angie’s List – a website providing ratings and reviews for home service providers – over alleged false advertising of the background checks performed on these providers, according to a news report from KPIX CBS Channel 5 in San Francisco, California.

KPIX reports the complaint filed by District Attorney George Gascon indicates a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page about background checks on the Angie’s List website states: “Angie’s List has criminal background checks performed annually on the principal/owner or relevant manager of all Certified Service Providers.”

A video advertisement for Angie’s List on YouTube entitled “Wanted” where a waiter notices a cook too closely resembles a wanted poster on the wall behind them makes a similar claim with an announcer stating: “Annual background checks, another reason to get Angie’s List for your home.”

KPIX reports that District Attorney Gascon claims these statements are “likely to deceive” consumers into believing the home service providers from Angie’s List entering their homes have undergone background checks when that is not the case according to the company’s own policy.

“We embrace innovative businesses, but it is imperative that consumers are not misled,” District Attorney Gascon told KPIX in a statement. “It is a matter of public safety that consumers are provided accurate information, especially when they are deciding whom to let into their homes.”

A spokesperson for Angie’s List – which has a database of more than 10 million homeowner reviews working with its background check process – stated: “We disagree with the claims made in this case and stand by both our screening process and our commitment to the best interests of our customers.”

This is not the first lawsuit filed by Gascon for alleged false advertising of background checks. In March 2018, he filed a civil complaint against HomeAdvisor, Inc. and parent company ANGI Homeservices, Inc., for alleged false information about background checks performed on service providers sent to homes.

A survey of the “extended workforce” – workers with non-traditional employer-employee relationships such as home service providers – found it could be “more than a third of the total employed labor force.” Employers should perform the same background checks for the extended workforce that they would on regular employees.

tragic example of why background checks of home service providers are needed occurred in 2001 in Florida when a worker sent on a service call to the home of a woman named Sue Weaver turned out to be a convicted sex offender on parole. Six months after completing the work, he returned to the house to rape and murder her.

Since a background check may have revealed the murderer’s past criminal record, the victim’s sister, Lucia Bone, started the Sue Weaver CAUSE (Consumer Awareness of Unsafe Service Employment) to raise awareness about the case and promote screening standards for companies providing in-home services for customers.

The need for employers to run background checks on the “extended workforce” such as home service providers was one of the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” for 2018 selected by Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), a background check firm headquartered in the San Francisco area.

“Employers can be sitting ducks for expensive litigation, negative publicity, and economic loss if they do not conduct proper background checks when hiring the extended workforce,” said ESR founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen, who founded ESR in 1997 to promote safe workplaces for employers, employees, and the public.

“All of the rules of due diligence apply with equal force if a member of the extended workforce causes harm. Business can be liable if – in the exercise of reasonable care – they should have known that a member of the extended workforce was too dangerous, unqualified, or otherwise unfit for employment,” said Rosen.

“The facts in any particular case need to be established but, as a general rule, if a company claims they do background checks on workers, it seems reasonable that a consumer has the right to expect that the person who shows up at their door was checked with a real background check and not some database search,” he said.

“A background check on the company or software provider that sent the in-home worker is not the same as the actual person coming into the home having been checked out,” explained Rosen, the author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ a comprehensive guide to background checks, and several white papers about screening.

“Regardless of how this particular matter turns out, the message is that a company or software provider must be very accurate about their claims about the safety of workers, and not allow a consumer to be lulled into a false sense of security either because the actual worker was not checked,” he said.

ESR Whitepaper on Background Checks for Extended Workforce

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) offers a complimentary whitepaper entitled “Background Screening of Extended Workforce Necessary to Compete in Modern Economy” that is available at www.esrcheck.com/Tools-Resources/Whitepaper-Library/Screening-of-Exteneded-Workforce/.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

© 2018 Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – Making copies or using of any part of the ESR News Blog or ESR website for any purpose other than your own personal use is prohibited unless written authorization is first obtained from ESR.