How Good Intentions To Protect PII Can Negatively Delay The Hiring Process

Background check bottlenecks due to redacted PII on court records can lead to screening backlogs and frustrating onboarding delays.

The ongoing effort to more effectively protect personal identifying information is a noble pursuit. But what happens when the desire to advocate for increased protection of that personal identifying information ends up contributing to significant hurdles in running background checks and potentially compromising the safety of the workplace? That’s the question of the month as we look at recent court changes in Michigan that result in redacted birth dates on publicly accessible court records.

Similar to California, the Michigan Supreme Court has now implemented new rules that went into effect this month to redact the date of birth on court records requested by the public. For background screeners, the date of birth is an essential piece of information used to accurately corroborate an applicant’s legal record. For effective screening practices that keep our clients compliant and competitive, having access to those court records that are tied to a job applicant’s name and birthdate is a critical part of running background checks.

From Background Checks To Bottlenecks

For the screening industry, in an unprecedented era of background check needs, these roadblocks can become a tough-to-navigate reality that deserves more attention as redacted information on court records could become a trending policy in more states. Even as the working world gets more remote, or as regulated industries need to process background checks in bulk every month, businesses, and workers, are critically dependent on the ability to run effective and timely screenings. For the business struggling to scale, the result can be detrimental.

Luckily there seems to be a provision in the Michigan change that allows screening companies to request an approved status to access the redacted information. But let’s take a look at what some of the unintended consequences might be when we put a blanket solution for protecting PII on court records without considering what that might mean for the businesses and industries that rely on checks for safety and compliance.

A Question Of Accuracy

Accuracy is the currency of a reliable background check.The negative consequences an inaccurate background check brings can threaten not only the credibility of the screening process but the dignity of the applicant as well. Now, any company operating in Michigan, or that is looking to hire someone who lives in—or has ever lived in—Michigan is going to come up against this new date of birth redaction standard the state supreme court has adopted.

Relying on checking that date of birth to ensure that the candidate is accurately matched to their court record, and subsequent absence or presence of a criminal history, is a critical component to compliant hiring practices and, ultimately, workplace safety.

Maintaining that accuracy shouldn’t be the cause forgotten in pursuit of greater PII protection. As one legislator in Michigan put it, redacting that birth date could cause a “hell of a lot of collateral damage.”

Redacting birth dates could cause "A hell of a lot of collateral damage."

A Question Of Competitiveness

At a certain point, delayed background checks become an issue with attracting top-tier talent that won’t wait around. The more complicated the process the higher the cost and turnaround time. Timeliness in processing the screening helps ensure that all the resources it took to get the candidate that far are not lost as well. After all, companies can only push start dates so far before they lose candidates and leave the end users irritated.

A tough bottleneck that trades the perception of security by blanket redacting critical information from court records needed to corroborate background checks keeps effective vetting stuck in the past, rather than allowing CRMs and other screeners to.

A Question Of Innovation

Barred access to critical information for screeners to appropriately run a background check can cause backlogs to grow deeper than they already are. In the pursuit of better protected PII, unintended consequences could bottleneck the entire screening industry, keeping it stuck in the past, rather than allowing CRAs and other screening agencies to dynamically adapt for the hiring realities of the present and the future.

Making the work of running effective background checks more cumbersome while demand for them is at an all-time-high doesn’t seem to achieve the protection it’s designed to. At Vetty, we like to say we help humans hire humans. Our work is in designing a more pleasant experience onboarding new hires. That includes optimizing the necessary workflows for ID verification and background checks. Ironically the key to making a more human onboarding experience lies in expedited processes that aren’t subject to the bottlenecks that come from allowing only in-person access to court records.

The Answer Going Forward

So what are the potential solutions going forward should the redaction of key info used to corroborate PII in a background screening become a trend we see in courts across the country? Is it as simple as giving CRAs permission to access the otherwise redacted information? Luckily that seems to be the carve-out we’re seeing in Michigan.

One thing is true, as screening needs continue to grow, the way we move forward in anticipation of these hurdles is better addressed together. Like the rising tide that lifts all ships, advocating for the access screeners need to run effective background checks can happen while also celebrating the increase in awareness for PII protection.

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