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Importance of Fingerprinting and Background Checks in the Hiring Process

Many regulated businesses, including banking and healthcare, need fingerprinting as part of the employment process. This type of background check compares prints to criminal records, which can help employers find information like pending charges, misdemeanor convictions, and dismissed or acquitted crimes.

The most significant advantage of this screening is that it reduces false positives because each person’s fingerprints are distinctive.

Benefits of Fingerprinting and Background Checks:

1. Safety

While some businesses may ignore criminal records or reduce salaries for applicants with convictions, others consider them a severe liability and require fingerprinting as a job requirement. Background checks using fingerprints help employers ensure that new hires have no criminal, violent, or drug-related histories.

A fingerprint background check compares an applicant’s prints against federal databases to reveal a record of their criminal history. This type of check is often mandatory for specific jobs, especially those that involve handling children or sensitive information. Verifying an applicant’s identity also helps to identify false or altered documents.

Fingerprint screening does have some limitations, however. For example, the AFIS system used for federal checks contains only a tiny portion of the total number of arrests. Moreover, the data does not necessarily include information on case disposition, meaning it is difficult for employers to assess whether an arrest resulted in a conviction or dismissal.

Another challenge is fingerprint background checks can be time-consuming and error-prone. Fingerprints are taken from a person’s fingers, which can dry or damage over time. The process can be inconsistent when performed by different providers.

2. Legal Compliance

Many industries require fingerprinting and criminal background checks to screen employees. These include jobs that involve direct interaction with vulnerable people, such as child care or healthcare, positions requiring a security clearance, and law enforcement. Fingerprinting and background checks can help companies avoid litigation by ensuring their employees have not committed serious crimes.

A fingerprint background check compares an applicant’s prints with federal databases. However, since the FBI relies mainly on local and state law enforcement agencies, their information must be completed. It means that fingerprint-based searches can miss criminal convictions and records of arrest and disposition. In addition, using aliases in a fingerprint-based search can result in inaccurate or misleading results.

As a result, employers must supplement fingerprint background checks with comprehensive criminal record searches from accredited and compliant providers. Through this method, they can thoroughly picture an applicant’s legal background to make the best recruiting judgments. It is also crucial to note that relying on fingerprint records alone could lead to disparate impact discrimination since people of color are disproportionately arrested.

It would breach the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance and leave companies open to litigation. However, using name-based checks can prevent this by incorporating felony and misdemeanor convictions and the corresponding arrest records and court dispositions that are verified at the local level.

3. Reputation

Many industries, especially those that deal with crime or sensitive information, require fingerprinting for all or some employees. It is often done reactively to reduce employee-related crimes or to prevent fraud. However, fingerprint checks should be performed with other sources to ensure accuracy and thoroughness, as they are not the gold standard for screening.

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Traditionally, criminal fingerprint background checks use a candidate’s fingerprints to search the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint System of Identification (IAFIS). The IAFIS database only contains a person’s fingerprints if they have been detained or found guilty of a crime, and even then, the data may need to be more comprehensive. For example, a study found that only one-third of final dispositions in criminal cases are reported to the IAFIS.

Civil fingerprint background checks use a similar process, but instead of searching IAFIS, they search state and county AFIS databases. These databases are often more up-to-date and can help uncover records that would be missed by a name-based check.

Businesses are advised to select a credible, FCRA-compliant CRA that does direct searches with federal, state, and county courts and criminal records repositories to obtain the best results. This approach provides more accurate and up-to-date results that can help prevent unfavorable hires that could damage your company’s reputation or put its customers at risk.

4. Security

Some positions require fingerprinting and a criminal background check as part of the hiring process, including jobs that involve the medical field, working with children, or a security clearance. While these jobs can be lucrative and provide excellent growth opportunities, the vetting processes are often lengthy, time-consuming, and costly for employers.

Additionally, fingerprinting doesn’t always turn up conviction records or information about the outcome of an arrest. Employers are better off using comprehensive criminal record searches that will provide a complete picture of an applicant and reduce the risk of making mistakes in their decisions.

The fingerprinting process is typically manual, requiring an employee to visit their local police department or other vetting agency to have their prints taken and scanned. The vetting company will then search federal and state databases for criminal records related to the person’s name and date of birth.

Unfortunately, fingerprint records can be challenging to access due to inconsistent data collection and reporting by law enforcement agencies and county courts. Additionally, relying on fingerprint-based searches that return incomplete or inaccurate information could put a business at legal risk since it may unintentionally discriminate against people of color or others who are disproportionately arrested for minor crimes.

Instead, companies should focus on leveraging comprehensive electronic background checks and technology that integrates with applicant tracking systems (ATS) and onboarding systems to streamline the process for candidates and reduce the cost and timeline for results.

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