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No Chance to Make a First Impression

When considering an applicant for a job, one of the first things employers do is run a background check.  These can be as informal as a Google search or as formal as hiring a private screening company, but the goal is the same—to figure out whether or not an applicant could be a risk to the employer.  The typical results of these investigations are arrest records, but they usually don’t tell the full story.

Just because someone is arrested doesn’t mean they are guilty of the alleged crime.   Further, just because a record shows up doesn’t mean it should (Floridians are eligible to expunge or seal their records). But even if someone is convicted and the record should appear on a background check, how long can one mistake actually limit an individual’s prospects? 

The answer might be forever.  Despite the fact that employers technically can’t make hiring decisions based solely on the existence of an applicant’s criminal record due to language in Federal law, many still do.  Further, the Internet now doubles as a permanent storage facility for every arrest record that has ever been made available online.  This makes finding a job with a record especially problematic in Florida, an open access state that makes conviction and arrest inventories much more readily available to the public than other states. 

Worsening this issue is the fact that private agencies performing formal background checks may have out-of-date or incomplete information, and informal background checks using internet search engines often wield misleading results.  Just last year, two of the largest nationwide background screening providers were cited for “serious inaccuracies” in their reporting and paid millions in relief to harmed consumers.  In 2010, a University of Florida freshman was alarmed to discover that a google search of his name showed him wanted for murder, due to an incorrect spelling of the actual perpetrator’s name in an official press release.  Newly developed programs like “Vanish,”  which protects the privacy of archived data by rendering it unreadable after a certain amount of time, could have a positive impact on the permanency of records on the internet as well as the quality of background checks overall, but we have a long way to go.

Millions of Floridians have some sort of criminal history that can drastically affect their current and future employment, education, or other opportunities.  While we may never solve the issue of record permanency on the Internet, there are a number of things Florida can do to improve access to employment opportunities for these individuals in Florida, including the use of Certificates of Rehabilitation and State Tax Credits for hiring former offenders. 

To read more about addressing barriers to employment for persons with criminal records, click here.
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