The Chicago Employment Law Blog

The Census Bureau Sued For Allegedly Faulty Background Checks

One of the biggest job-creation stories of 2010 is the Census Bureau's call for more than 1 million temporary workers to help with the once-every-decade household tally. The Census Bureau jobs have been creating quite a buzz in the Windy City. Chicago has seven Census Bureau offices, all indicating starting wages of $18.25 per hour

The temporary assignment may be just the ticket for Chicago's unemployed, especially for those who have exhausted their jobless benefits. But don't bother if you're among the roughly 50 million Americans with an arrest or conviction on record, an editorial in The New York Times explains. 

In fact, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the U.S. government by applicants claiming they were denied census jobs based on what they say is an arbitrary and error-prone background check process. The Times article cites a 2006 federal study finding that as many as half of all background checks are inaccurate or outdated.

If you believe you've been similarly snubbed, then you might want to ask a Chicago employment lawyer about your legal options.

A FAQ sheet about the Census Bureau's background check policy provides plenty of detail about procedures, but doesn't say too much about exactly which type of arrests would bar applicants from the job (PDF).

In fact, it appears from the FAQ that the only way to remain eligible if a single arrest record is found is to provide "official court documentation" of the case. In other words, applicants are required to prove their eligibility even though they have no idea why they were flagged to begin with.

And consider the whole other can of worms this policy opens, as explained in the Times editorial:

Official court records are often unobtainable for the millions of people ... who have been arrested and released because of lack of evidence or mistaken arrest. This problem falls heaviest on black and Hispanic communities where stop-and-frisk policies and indiscriminate arrests are common.

And according to a study by the National Employment Law Project, tens of thousands of port workers were denied credentials because of botched federal background checks (PDF). In other words, it appears to be a systemic government-wide problem.

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