Warning: The post below includes spoilers for Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere.
My wife and I are currently binge-watching Little Fires Everywhere, a Hulu miniseries based on a book of the same name. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, during the late 1990s, Fires stars Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson (a white, married, upper-middle-class newspaper reporter with four children) and Kerry Washington as Mia Warren (a black, single mother who works as an artist and supplements her income through other part-time jobs).
Early in the series, Elena hires Mia to work in her home and rents an apartment to her. Based on concerns arising from a reference check from someone Mia claims to be a former landlord, Elena asks a friend in the police department to conduct a criminal background check on Mia (Elena misleadingly claims that the background check is for a newspaper story).
As an employment attorney, my eyebrows were raised by Elena’s actions, as obtaining and using background checks and criminal history in the employment context are strictly regulated by federal, state, and even local laws.
Background Checks and the FCRA
Generally, employee background checks are covered by the federal Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA). As noted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FCRA “protects information collected by consumer reporting agencies such as credit bureaus, medical information[,] and tenant screening services.”
The FCRA has certain procedural requirements that must be met before obtaining information from companies that provide background reports, which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes as follows:
- Tell the applicant or employee you might use the information for decisions about his or her employment. This notice must be in writing and in a stand-alone format. The notice can’t be in an employment application. You can include some minor additional information in the notice (like a brief description of the nature of consumer reports) but only if it doesn’t confuse or detract from the notice.
- If you are asking a company to provide an “investigative report”—a report based on personal interviews concerning a person’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and lifestyle—you must also tell the applicant or employee of his or her right to a description of the nature and scope of the investigation.
- Get the applicant’s or employee’s written permission to do the background check. This can be part of the document you use to notify the person that you will get the report. If you want the authorization to allow you to get background reports throughout the person’s employment, make sure you say so clearly and conspicuously.
- Certify to the company from which you are getting the report that you:
- Notified the applicant and got his or her permission to get a background report;
- Complied with all of the FCRA requirements; and
- Won’t discriminate against the applicant or employee or otherwise misuse the information in violation of federal or state equal opportunity laws or regulations. Read more here…
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Source: HR Daily Advisor