Question: According to rumor, one of my co-workers conducts unauthorized criminal background investigations on prospective employees without their knowledge or permission. This cyber-snoop doesn’t work in human resources but collects information and passes it along to the hiring managers. She’s also been known to interrogate employees after they’re hired about information she’s learned.
We’ve also been told that, despite being married, this employee masquerades as a single woman on dating sites and essentially cyberstalks her targets.
My co-workers and I don’t know what to do about this employee, as our members of our senior leadership team have indicated they support this woman one hundred percent. What can those of us who find this repugnant do?
According to employment and labor attorney Paul Wilcox, “It’s not surprising that management supports this employee’s efforts to vet applicants, authorized or not. Many organizations proactively seek information about potential hires and would prefer learning a prospective employee has a criminal background prior to placing their other employees, organizational assets or customers at risk. Viewed in this context, your coworker volunteers her time to ensure workplace safety.”
Employment and labor attorney Eric Brown views your situation differently. “This woman’s behavior could be problematic for your employer. As your employer apparently uses this woman’s information when making employment decisions, they’ve effectively authorized your coworker to snoop. The fact that she’s a “straw man” for the employer doesn’t absolve your employer of its legal obligations with respect to how they conduct of background checks. If I were advising your employer, I would tell it to immediately cease accommodating this behavior.”
You also report senior managers support this woman one hundred percent, which indicates they back her despite your concerns. What’s going on and how have you voiced your worries? Do your managers need to realize your coworker has a dark side that makes others uneasy and puts off new employees? Your coworker’s alleged deceptive cyberstalking of men is creepy.
On the other hand, you started your email saying you’ve learned this information from rumors. If they’re false, they unfairly malign this woman and signal a workplace rife with gossip.
Next, it’s not uncommon for an employer’s current employees to supply useful information about job candidates to hiring managers. They may have worked with a potential candidate in the past. They may ask a friend, “hey, what do you know about ‘x’, he’s applied to work here and listed your company as a former employer.”
When curious employees go further, and search public records or use background checking databases, and your employer uses what they’ve learned, your employer may need to obtain the applicant’s prior authorization and comply with Fair Credit Reporting Act record retention and applicant disclosure requirements.
Further, those without HR expertise aren’t always able to interpret court records; nor do they realize an applicant’s legal protections. For example, a felony arrest may have been dismissed. There might also be HR reasons for not considering a conviction that occurred more than seven years prior or one that isn’t relevant to a current job.
Additionally, if informally acquired information leads hiring managers to discriminate against an individual based on legally-protected categories such as sex, race or disability, your employer risks discrimination complaints or lawsuits, and needs to be able to show those factors didn’t influence their hiring decision.
Finally, a new employee who faces a personal grilling soon after joining an organization may also wonder if they’ve joined a hostile organization and either leave or file a discrimination complaint.
My suggestion: Hand this column to your HR officer and suggest that they look into everything you’ve alleged and straighten this situation out.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.