Q: According to rumors, 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 this information and passes it along to the hiring manager and even interrogates the employees when they get hired.
We've also been told that, despite being married, this employee masquerades as a single woman on dating sites and essentially cyber-stalks her targets.
My co-workers and I don't know what to do about this employee, as our executive managers have indicated that they support this woman 100 percent. What can those of us who find this repugnant do about this woman?
A: According to Anchorage 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 knowing if 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.
Attorney-turned-HR-consultant Rick Birdsall agrees that your coworker's public record searching is legal, but cautions that "if she uses background checking databases for employment-related searches, she needs to obtain the applicant's prior authorization and comply with Fair Credit Reporting Act record retention and applicant disclosure requirements."
Although you raise the issue that your coworker doesn't work within the HR department, this may not be relevant, as many employees supply positive and negative information about job candidates to hiring managers. At the same time, 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. Also, there might be HR reasons for not considering a conviction that occurred more than seven years prior or certain types of problems as relevant to a current job.
As an additional caution, if hiring managers receive information that might lead them to discriminate against an individual in a protected category such as sex, race or disability because of that category, they risk discrimination complaints or lawsuits, and need to be able to show those factors didn't influence a hiring decision. Further, a new employee who faces a personal grilling soon after hiring might wonder if they've joined a hostile organization. Although attorney Wilcox notes that "new hires or applicants who feel harassed can pursue claims through internal company procedure," a new hire may hesitate to do this but instead decide to go back on the job market.
The situation you describe extends beyond hiring issues in two areas. You allege that your coworker deceptively "cyber-stalks" men, a clearly creepy behavior. Further, you know this through rumors, which might be false, and potentially indicate a workplace rife with gossip.
You also report that upper management supports this woman 100 percent, which indicates they back her despite your concerns. What's going on here? Are rumors unfairly maligning a coworker or do your managers need to realize your coworker has a dark side that makes others uneasy and puts off new employees? My suggestion: Hand this column to your HR officer and suggest that they look into everything you've alleged and put the situation to right.
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of "Solutions" and "Beating the Workplace Bully," and owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10, at workplacecoachblog.com or at her new site bullywhisperer.com.
Contact Lynne Curry at email@example.com or on Twitter.