August 15, 2022

Volume XII, Number 227

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August 15, 2022

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Beware of Online Applications and Background Check Authorizations

An increasing number of employers have been recipients of proposed class actions alleging that the way they conduct background checks on prospective employees violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15 U.S.C. §1681 ("FCRA").

A recent example is a claim filed in Virginia, which focuses on the employer's online job application. The process asks potential employees whether they are willing to allow the company to obtain a consumer report or criminal background check on them. Applicants must then click a button labeled either "Accept" or "Decline." The claim alleges that for purposes of the FCRA, an electronic disclosure is not one made "in writing" and that an electronic signature (Accept/Decline) does not satisfy the requirements of the act.

As it relates to employers conducting background checks on prospective employees, the FCRA requires that a person may not procure a consumer report for employment purposes with respect to any consumer, unless (1) a clear and conspicuous disclosure has been made in writing to the applicant at any time before the report is procured, in a document that consists solely of the disclosure that a consumer report may be obtained for employment purposes; and (2) the consumer has authorized in writing the procurement of the report by that person.

Electronic disclosures of this sort have traditionally been viewed as falling under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act ("E-Sign"). However, this claim challenges this understanding of E-Sign by alleging that the law does not apply to job applicants, but instead only to consumers, which it defines as an individual who obtains products or services.

Under the FCRA, employers may be liable to each class member for up to $1,000.00 or actual damages, plus punitive damages and attorneys' fees and costs. So far this year, two companies have agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements in similar cases.

We strongly recommend that employers review their online job application process to ensure that it does not run afoul of the FCRA and obtain competent labor counsel to address any concerns. 

© 2022 Varnum LLPNational Law Review, Volume I, Number 349
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About this Author

Luis E. Avila, Labor Employment Attorney, Varnum Law, Immigration Issues Lawyer, Grand Rapids
Partner

Luis focuses his practice on labor, employment and immigration issues. Luis has a wide range of experience in traditional labor matters, including grievances, arbitrations, collective bargaining negotiations, union drives, and matters in front of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). Luis has counseled employers on a number of workplace matters, including effective employee handbooks and policies, disciplinary and dispute resolution procedures, discrimination, disability accommodation, wage-hour matters, family medical leave, and...

616-336-6742
John Patrick White, labor, employment and education lawyer, varnum
Counsel

Pat's practice concentrates on the full spectrum of civil rights issues including race, gender and disability matters, free speech and electronic privacy issues in the workplace. In addition to litigation, he also does traditional labor work, including negotiation and arbitration, both for public and private sector clients. He also maintains a strong background in education law, representing school districts, community colleges and colleges and universities, both with respect to employment issues as well as student issues.

616/336-6615
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