California County Builds up Background Check Backlog with Concerning Implications

By Michael Klazema on 12/31/2014

Contra Costa County, located near California's San Francisco Bay Area, is currently in the midst of a big background check problem. According to a recent article published by the Contra Costa Times, the county's Superior Court has a backlog of background checks so long that employers and other outfits are having to wait a month or more for results. The slowdowns, of course, have had troubling implications for job seekers or volunteers, who can't prove that they have clean records fast enough to secure positions.

The difficulties for job seekers when it comes to long background check times are twofold. On one hand, employers generally can't wait for a month to fill a position. When a job opens, businesses usually have to fill it within a week or two to avoid lost productivity. On the other hand, most job seekers can't put their lives on hold for a month, waiting to hear whether or not they will get a job. In other words, the background check slowdown in Contra Costa County is bad for just about everyone involved.

So why hasn't the problem been fixed? For the most part, it's because there is no easy solution. The Superior Court has suffered budget cuts and substantial employee losses since 2009, which has left only a few clerks to run background checks. Since the system is set up in such a way that only court workers can search the databases, and since each search requires a clerk to manually input a name, the court doesn't make a substantial dent in the background checks on most days.

Part of the problem is that background checks aren't anyone's main job in the court system. The article from the Contra Costa Times quoted two different sources, both of whom essentially said that the checks were not a priority or the court. However, since the article also quoted a woman who has been job-hunting for a year, and who lost a conditional offer of employment because the court couldn't process her background check, it's clear that the court needs to reassess its priorities.

Such a reassessment is being done right now, but it's a work in progress. The court is looking at options to develop a searchable database for background research companies to use. Terminals allowing database access to the public are also being considered. Such new search methods have not yet been introduced. However, the Superior Court says that it has been treating background checks as a higher priority since September, when the wait time reached past a month. Now, most job searchers only have to wait a few days for their checks to clear.

Still, the fact that it was ever taking a month for background checks to process is appalling, and begs the question of whether or not courts should be the ones in charge of county checks. If there isn't anyone on staff who is specifically in charge of checks, it stands to reason that they would fall by the wayside, because they don't have a substantial impact on other court business. In other words, job searchers and employers lose because the courts don't have the funding to support a large enough staffs.


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