In the past year, alleged assaults on passengers by Uber drivers in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and other cities have called into question whether Uber’s employment screening procedures are keeping their customers safe. As allegations of driver misconduct mount, a growing consensus has emerged: Private background checks are not good enough. Uber, like most companies, currently screens job applicants using background checks run by private consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). These checks are compiled through manual searches of local court records.
Recent lawsuits, including one brought by prosecutors in California, have proposed that Uber could improve its background checks by fingerprinting job applicants and accessing criminal history information from the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI criminal history databases. Unsurprisingly, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, whose members compete with Uber and are themselves subject to fingerprint-based screening, also supports this proposal. And now, even members of the U.S. Congress are demanding that companies like Uber adopt fingerprint-based background checks.
At first glance, the push towards fingerprinting job applicants seems to make sense. And of course, Uber should seek to increase customer safety through sound background check policies. But the intense focus on fingerprinting is grounded in two faulty assumptions: First, that fingerprint-based background checks are orders of magnitude more accurate than private ones (they’re not). And second, that evidence of past criminal history is always a strong indicator that a job applicant will engage in misconduct on the job (it’s not). In fact, the debate on which type of background check is the “gold standard” diverts attention from a more pervasive problem in the workplace—namely, the indiscriminate (and potentially unlawful) use of criminal history information to deny jobs to qualified workers.