Security vs. Privacy

In a more dangerous world, companies are eager to learn more about workers before hiring. The two-edged sword: Ensuring security at the workplace while also protecting workers’ privacy.

PDF Download

Both companies work with employee screener HireRight, which counts Cisco, Fujitsu and Staples as clients. HireRight allows employers to choose information they want to gather about an applicant and automates their checks to the click of a button. HireRight then searches public databases for everything from Social Security and death certificate records to nationwide warrants and Department of Transportation records.

The data is closely guarded. HireRight CEO Eric Boden says the company pays outsiders to try to hack its Oracle databases and Sun servers. “Cisco also performs testing on our system,” he says. “You have to make sure you’re keeping up with latest firewall technology and your system is secure.”

But security isn’t the biggest issue. IT and human-resources managers have to be careful how far they can go without getting themselves into legal binds. The skinny? Any company can collect buckets of information for their own paper or electronic files on employees. But federal and state laws limit the kinds of information an employer can actually cite when making hiring decisions.

Gray areas include educational, military and medical records; some of this information is private and requires a person’s consent to check. Laws surrounding criminal and arrest records vary from state to state.

Companies also can’t reveal much when a potential new employer comes looking for references on a former worker. Most advise their HR departments to verify only name, job title and dates of employment—not how good or trustworthy the employee was.

What Information You Can Gather

From a former employer:

  • Job title
  • Final salary
  • Dates of employment

    What you can learn and use:

  • Social Security number
  • Passport ID number
  • Educational degrees
  • Previous addresses confirmation
  • Past employment confirmation

    What you can learn but not use:

  • Bankruptcy filings: Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants who’ve filed for bankruptcy
  • Medical records: An employer may not make a hiring decision based on an applicant’s disability unless it affects job duties. Some states have confidentiality laws regarding medical records
  • Credit reports: Request consent before you access an applicant’s credit report. If you opt not to hire on the basis of the report, you must inform him of the right to challenge the report

    The gray areas:

  • Criminal records: Some states allow checks for certain jobs, such as childcare, private investigation, nursing and law enforcement
  • Workers’ compensation records: Only if the injury in question is relevant
  • Driving records: Only if the job requires a lot of driving
  • Military service: Under limited circumstances. Consent required

    Sources: Nolo Press, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.