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Employment: For the Record

By Megan Kinneyn | Feb. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Feb. 2, 2007

Employment: For the Record

The worst kind of background checks. By Traci Hukill

By Traci Hukill
      Edited by Martin Lasden
      In the information age, can there ever be such a thing as a clean slate? According to the National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence, roughly 80 percent of employers conduct background checks on applicants, and many of them use unregulated Internet services whose fees can start at less than $10.
      Like deep-sea fishing trawlers dragging nets along the sea floor, these data brokers gather up vast quantities of information from public records in an indiscriminate fashion. Much of this information turns out to be inaccurate, according to Margaret Richardson, who directs the Clean Slate Clinic, a low-income legal services provider at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley. In other cases, it gets blown out of proportion.
      "I've seen where a case was reduced to an infraction, which in California is considered like a ticket," says Richardson. "The data brokers don't understand that in California an infraction is not a criminal conviction, so they report it and the person doesn't get the job."
      It's also common for online reports not to reflect expungements and dismissals, a problem that Richardson would like to tackle by having prospective employees notified whenever adverse information is found so that they have the opportunity to challenge it.
      Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Neighborhood Legal Services, another low-income legal services provider, is looking into the sorts of information that data brokers typically include in their criminal background checks. "It's rare that we have a client who actually sees their background check," says staff attorney Hannah Silk Kapasi. "They just know they didn't get the job."
      Remedies for clearing records in California are few to begin with, notes Dorsey Nunn, a member of All of Us or None, a human rights group for the formerly incarcerated. Sealing a record, which is the official removal of a crime from the record, applies only to juvenile offenders. The more common remedy, dismissal of conviction, is available to those who've served county jail time or probation, but only after they go through a lot of bureaucratic gymnastics. Still, says Nunn, "I encourage people to do it, because that's the remedy that's available, even though it's limited."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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