The local government of Yakima County, Washington is considering new background check regulations for its workers after an office technician in the county's drug court was arrested for mass forgery. The office worker in question, hired back in 2010, allegedly forged roughly $8,000 worth of court vouchers. Worse, the county has said that she never underwent a background check.
The woman gave out the vouchers to drug court defendants as part of her job with the county. These vouchers are intended for buying gas and clothes so clients can make it to court hearings and look presentable in front of the judge. The office worker is now being accused of forging 54 of these vouchers between December 2014 and January 2015. She used the county's money at Kmart, buying diapers and other personal items. She is facing both first-degree theft and identity theft charges for the crime.
Interestingly, the office worker has two felony convictions on her record for previous forgery-related charges. She was charged with both offenses back in 2002, and spent about a month in jail total for the crimes. A background check could have uncovered those convictions and disqualified the woman from employment consideration with Yakima County”especially for a job involving control of monetary vouchers. This case is essentially a textbook example of when it would be most appropriate for an employee to reject an applicant based on background check findings.
There's only one problem: Yakima County never ran a background check on the woman before hiring her in 2010. Even stranger, officials say that they didn't run a background check because of EEOC regulations. Evidently, the county feels as if they could get in trouble with the federal organization just for running background checks on all employees and applicants.
As a result, Yakima County only screens some of its departments, such as local law enforcement or the treasurer's office. According to a report from the Yakima Herald, the county's HR director said that the criteria for deciding which departments get background checks and which don't is based on whether or not there is "a clear relationship between a criminal background and the job being sought." Evidently, as of 2010, the drug court wasn't a department where the county could establish that kind of relationship.
Essentially, this situation just sounds like a misinterpretation of EEOC regulations. Yakima County officials aren't wrong that there should be a clear relationship between a background check and the job at hand. If any employer is going to reject an applicant based on a background check report, then that report needs to contain something that directly impairs the applicant's ability to perform the job.
What Yakima County seems to have misunderstood is that not all criminal backgrounds are the same. There are absolutely criminal convictions that would have a clear relationship with a job in drug court. For instance, what if an applicant was a convicted drug dealer, and was going to use the drug court job to locate potential new customers? And as has been proven by the voucher forging incident, someone with felony convictions for forgery and fraud might not be fit to perform a job that entails handling documents that can be misused or forged.
What Yakima County can learn from this is that the EEOC does not bar employers from running background checks their applicants. It's how those background checks are used to make hiring decisions that is important. The county is reconsidering its policies in the wake of the voucher incident.