The FBI's Crappy Databases Might Be Screwing You Out Of A Job

As a former HR cog, I can tell you that most companies do background checks on potential employees, most of them farm it out to some third party, and that third party generally checks the FBI’s database. Generally, if you want arrest records, you query the FBI’s database or you visit the courthouse. One problem: The FBI’s databases are, it turns out, terrible.

The big problem is follow-up, according to the National Employment Law Project. The report will say you’re arrested, but it won’t say you were innocent. This is apparently because police officers do not enjoy paperwork.

…the most recently available public data indicates there is a one in two chance that arrest information in the FBI’s database will fail to include any indication of the disposition of the case. As reported in 2006 by the U.S. Attorney General, the FBI’s Interstate Identification Index system, from which the background reports are created, is “still missing final disposition information for approximately 50 percent of its records.”

To give you an idea of just how problematic this is, the NELP estimates there were 16.9 million background checks last year, and that over a half million people found their arrest record a serious impediment to finding work. In other words, if you got arrested by mistake at some point in your life, it could still be biting you on the ass.

The big problem is that you likely have no idea what databases that background check is even pulling from. Speaking from personal experience, background checks are pretty common with white collar jobs, but there’s no standard. Some people use a website, some go straight to the source, some just call your references and run your name through Google.

In short, you could have lost out on that job because of your weed arrest in college, or you could have lost out on it because there was a more qualified candidate. It’s literally a coin flip. Oh, also, we could find no way to request an update of your arrest information in the system. Isn’t technology grand?