Reducing Bias in the Background Screening Process: Our Commitment to Social Justice
Background Screening |Industry Information |Company News |October 6, 2020
Discrimination, diversity, and inclusiveness are raising questions surrounding best practices for pre-screening bias. However, PlusOne Solutions has been committed to social justice since the company was founded in 2005.
Recent media articles demand that organizations who handle criminal record checks should be accountable for their role in social justice initiatives and understanding the impact these records can have on various groups. Specifically of note is the Washington Post article which calls data organizations to task for perpetuating discrimination by using and sharing criminal record information that is obtained from a system that is known to be flawed and unfair to some in our population.
We feel it is important to highlight our efforts and commitment to social justice and underscore the acceptance and accountability we take for our role in society. We share this now as a contribution to the dialogue that needs to occur and a reminder that for us, for more than 15 years, social justice is part of the foundation of PlusOne Solutions and this isn’t a new trend in response to more recent circumstances.
How we define the company against social justice principles
PlusOne Solutions believes everyone deserves equal economic and social rights and access to opportunities. We commit to social justice as an ongoing effort rather than a static end state. For us, social justice is based on the principles of respect, care, and equity; with an awareness of how race, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, family responsibility or family status, marital status, religious or political conviction, age, and disability may impact the opportunities for individuals.
By acknowledging the attitudes, assumptions, and judgments that shape our actions, we create policies and work processes that respect the dignity and value of every individual we background screen and work with. We know the work we do has real impacts on individuals and their lives – they may not be gainfully employed because of the information we provide.
That is a big responsibility and not one that we take lightly.
The Role PlusOne Solutions Plays in the Industry
We conduct thousands of background checks each year on individuals across the U.S. and Canada. This may include data such as driving record searches, criminal record and arrest information, and global watches and database searches. Many of these may also include demographic information which is used in our matching and identification process. How we use, protect, and share this information with Customers, our end users, and the opportunities we afford the individuals about whom we have information, creates the base for our social justice efforts. Also, our process regularly includes requirements that support reentry efforts like state, county, or even city-level Ban the Box or Fair Chance initiatives which seek to provide previously convicted individuals an opportunity to reenter society in a meaningful way.
6 Things We Do to Commit to Social Justice in Our Background Screening Process
1. Provide More Opportunities Through an Appeal Process
From the start of our business, we have always offered individuals both an option to dispute, as is their right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), as well as an opportunity to appeal. Before a final decision is made about the individual’s inclusion in our Customer’s service network, they have the opportunity to appeal the decision.
The dispute process is focused on information that is incorrect or incomplete while the appeal process recognizes the information is accurate but provides the opportunity for the individual to disclose additional detail about their circumstances to explain why they feel they are still suitable for the role and eligibility in the Customer’s network. This allows the individual to explain why their past experiences or criminal history should not be a disqualifying condition.
2. Use Identification Numbers in Place of Individual Names
With all the individuals we deal with, we have a lot of “John Smiths”… so we have instituted a process that relies on a PlusOne ID (or “Tech ID”). This gives a unique number to each individual, which they are fully aware of, and is used in many of the Customer’s platforms and systems as well, and reduces the need to surface names which may provide ethnic, gender, or other information.
3. Create a Custom Risk Relevancy Matrix Based on the Role
Each customer we work with provides a risk relevancy matrix that outlines which types of records are relevant to the role the individual will hold and when reviewing records, we use this guide to determine which are relevant. Since arrest records are treated differently than criminal convictions, we regularly work directly with the individual to ascertain the more detailed circumstances which surround an arrest or booking incident and are specifically looking to see the relevance of the issue and the presence of a formal charge or conviction that can be evaluated. This affords the individual an opportunity, even before the appeal process, to provide additional details that may be relevant to the review and consideration of an individual. The matrix removes the subjective decision-making process that can occur and allows an individualized assessment of the individual’s suitability for work in our customer’s network. The goal here is to recognize that while not everyone may be suitable for every job, this must be a risk-based decision based on the requirements of each job.
4. Sharing Only Relevant Information
When reviewing details of completed screenings, our team often have access to large amounts of demographic information on an individual – descriptors, tattoos, age, height or weight, complete legal names, gender, and possibly transgender situations. If the information is not relevant, it will be removed from the report and when the final report is provided, it contains only summary information with relevant details for the Customer. This again protects the individual, and our Customers, from inadvertently using irrelevant information for the decision at hand.
5. Managing the Submission and Use of Potentially Discriminating Information
The majority of the individuals being screened enter their information into a secure online system. The gathering of gender is not included but other items like address, DOB, previous address information, and other names, are captured and used by PlusOne Solutions in the screening process but not generally shared with the Customer.
When issuing reports, we also protect the individual’s full date of birth, and age so as not to unnecessarily disclose PII, but this also protects the individual and our Customers from using age in any of their decisions.
If there are situations where a name or gender change is identified, date of birth, or name requires clarification, or information is provided that may be considered incomplete, our standard process is to reach out to the individual to obtain the required details. This provides an opportunity for them to participate in the process, as well as clarify information that a purely automated, depersonalized approach would simply overlook.
This protects the individual’s information and again, creates a barrier between the Customer and what information they have, know, and can use in their process, and reduces the likelihood that the individual could be discriminated against. If the information is not available, it cannot be used to create a disparate impact.
6. Sensitivity to Gender
Communications, whether by email, regular post, or on the phone, contain a sensitivity to gender and use primarily the PlusOne ID, or in some cases we will use the individual’s name. In doing so, we do not confuse Whitney who is male, with a Whitney who may be female and do not rely on pronouns like “she/her” or “he/him” which may preserve the individual’s dignity concerning their gender identification preferences.
Our goals and commitment are not insignificant. By recognizing the value of each individual, we deliver on our goal to improve the world around us.
We work with our Customers, their service networks, and each individual being screened to ensure the criminal records review process followed promotes social change, specifically addresses the risk relevant to their work and role and respects their differing backgrounds.
It’s what we do, it’s what we have always done, and will continue to do in order to best serve you.
Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel concerning their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.
About PlusOne Solutions
PlusOne Solutions has been an industry leader in the risk management field by specializing in compliance programs that meet the complex challenges of geographically dispersed contractors, vendors, and employee networks. PlusOne Solutions protects companies from possible financial, legal, and reputational risks associated with contractor and vendor relationships while creating safer work environments.