I once applied for a job with a big-time, international consulting firm. I signed off on a background check that included letting them interview everyone back to my kindergarten teacher. I had to get a physical and pee in a cup. They did a credit check. Who knows what they found, because they didn’t hire me. (I have no idea what they found because they wouldn’t share it with me.)
That was lucky, because letting people I didn’t know intrude into areas of my life that were none of their business gnawed at me… and I decided not to accept an offer even if they made it. Go suck rocks. Who wants to turn their life over to goons? And besides, I wanted to know — but no one at the company would tell me — what does the CEO’s credit record look like? Why don’t employers publish their officers’ full records like Subway publishes calorie counts on all its sandwiches?
Why do companies want to know it all? To avoid hiring someone who might go postal some day? Nah, it’s to cover their asses. Personnel jockeys and lawyers apply every available “verification” process just because they can. Because who wants to make a decision and be held accountable for it if there’s one more source of data we can check…? Who wants to hire somebody who missed her last car payment and is struggling to find a job so she can make the next one?
What many people don’t realize is, you can say NO. You are under no obligation to micturate on demand, expose your kindergarten teacher to embarrassing questions, or to take a probe up your credit report or up your ass. You might not get the interview, but all the details of your life are not any employer’s business unless you choose to make them so. (If you consent, consider that what an employer finds may not even be accurate. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says that about a third of credit reports contain serious errors.)
Many Ask The Headhunter readers tell me they say NO. I learned to say no after I looked at myself in the mirror following the investigation into my life many years ago. I was ashamed of myself. I gave up everything about myself to information goons.
On July 9, 2009 Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee introduced H.R.3149, a bill “to amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit the use of consumer credit checks against prospective and current employees for the purposes of making adverse employment decisions.”
Cohen says, “At a time when people are struggling to find jobs, credit checks should not be used as a basis to deny employment to otherwise qualified candidates.” The bill has 36 co-sponsors and it is long overdue. It’s time to draw this line.
Nonetheless, the bill “makes exceptions to such prohibition for employment: (1) which requires a national security or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) clearance; (2) with a state or local government agency which otherwise requires use of a consumer report; or (3) in a supervisory, managerial, professional, or executive position at a financial institution.
You should be aware of these exceptions because this is the best we’re likely to get. Much as I would like to put kindergarten teachers off limits.
Checking people out before you hire them is a smart thing to do. So talk to people that job candidates have worked with and ask smart questions. Check references. Do your diligence. But you’re not an information proctologist. There are places where your hands don’t belong because you don’t acquire rights to anyone’s privacy when you hire them. And it’s time Congress put that in writing.
Kudos to Rep. Steve Cohen. H.R. 3149 has been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. I’m contacting my legislators and telling them to vote for the bill. I encourage you to do the same.