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Fake Credentials and Diploma Mills

Recently, a group of student reporters at Pittsburg High School in Kansas uncovered something unexpected about their new principle, Amy Robertson. While gathering information for an article they intended to write to welcome Ms. Robertson to the school, the students found reason to question her credentials; and the article they eventually wrote resulted in Ms. Robertson’s resignation.

What the students found was that Corllins University, where Ms. Robertson claimed to have received both her Master’s and PhD, did not have a functional website and was not an accredited school recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the US Department of Education. Further research uncovered several articles that suspect the school of being a diploma mill. The students also found reason for suspicion when Ms. Robertson gave conflicting answers regarding her education history during an interview and was unable to provide transcripts to verify her Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree from Tulsa University; a degree Tulsa University says it has never offered.

Each year, universities in the United States award an average of 45,000 legitimate doctorates, and another estimated 50,000 fake PhDs are purchased from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. This phenomenon isn’t new, every year people use fake credentials to obtain positions like educators, doctors, lawyers and others we count on to be properly trained.  Back in 2004, the senior assistant secretary of defense, head of human resources for 2 million people, was found to have a fake master’s degree, and it’s currently estimated that 100,000 federal employees have credentials from a diploma mill. Part of the problem is that people simply accept stated credentials. But checking into someone’s credentials isn’t hard, as the student reporters of Pittsburg High School demonstrated, you just have to do the work.

The easiest way to identify a diploma mill is to find out if they are accredited. Other red flags to look for include:

  1. Diploma mills offer degrees for a set fee while legitimate universities charge by the credit.
  2. Diploma mills offer degrees based on work and life experiences and often promise you can get your degree in just a few days or weeks.
  3. Diploma mills often don’t list admission criteria.
  4. Diploma mills tend to have names that are similar to well-known reputable schools.
  5. Diploma mill websites usually don’t provide details about the content of their graduate programs, list very little information about the faculty, and often have no contact information listed other than an email address.
  6. Diploma mills often have complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.
  7. Diploma mills yield sketchy internet search results.

Confirming an individual’s education history is an important step towards making the most well-informed hiring decision for your company.  For additional information regarding university accreditation in the United States, visit www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred.

New Criminal History Regulations Coming to California

On March 27, 2017 the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved new regulations relating to the use of criminal background information in employment decisions. These new regulations will go into effect on July 1st of this year.

In addition to restating the existing bans on the use of criminal history in California (like using criminal history information to make decisions on hiring, promotion, and termination), the new regulations also require employers to prove that any criminal history information sought is job-related and in accordance with a business necessity. In order to show that the use of criminal history information is justifiably job-related, an employer must take the following factors into consideration:

  • The nature and gravity of the offense;
  • The time that has passed since the offense and/or completion of the sentence;
  • The nature of the job sought or held.

The regulations go on to state that in order for an employer to prove that their practice of seeking criminal history is appropriate for the job in which it is used  as an evaluation factor, the employer must either:

 

  1. Conduct an individualized assessment of the applicant, which includes informing them that they’ve been screened out because of a criminal conviction. The applicant must then be given the opportunity to provide additional information/reasoning that their criminal history should not be considered. The employer can then determine whether the additional information is sufficient for an exception.

 

  1. Show that any “bright-line” conviction disqualification policy can properly distinguish candidates who do and do not pose an acceptable level of risk and that the convictions have a direct and specific negative bearing on the person’s ability to perform the duties of the position. Any bright-line policy that includes conviction information that is seven or more years old will not be considered appropriate to meet a job-related risk. It is then up to the employer whether or not to refute that consideration.

 

Regardless of which way an employer chooses to demonstrate that their practice of seeking criminal history is relevant to the job, the employer must provide the individual in question with notice and the ability to challenge the accuracy of the information before adverse action can be taken. If the individual is able to show that the information is inaccurate, it cannot be used in the employment decision.

In addition to these new regulations, the California legislature has introduced legislation (AB 1008) that addresses the use of prior criminal history information in employment decisions.

Stay tuned to our blog for more information.

USE OF BACKGROUND CHECK INFORMATION

Have you ever had a background check conducted for an employee and then wondered if you can use the information provided for another purpose?

The Federal Trade Commission recently posted an article to its blog explaining how, in accordance with the FCRA, an employer or other user of a consumer report cannot “double dip” the information contained within a report. This means that consumer reports ordered for one reason cannot be used for another.

Employers who engage the services of a background screening company should also make sure to read the Notice to Users of Consumer Reports: Obligations of Users Under the FCRA, which explains employers obligations under the law.

Some employer obligations to remember include:

  • Having a “permissible purpose” to request a consumer report from a background screening company.
  • Providing notice regarding the background investigation and securing the person’s written consent.
  • Adverse action notices must be sent out in the event that a negative decision is made based on the content of the consumer report.

LA VOTES TO BAN THE BOX AND THEN SOME – UPDATE

On January 22, 2017, Los Angeles is set become the latest city to “ban the box,” restricting private employers with at least ten employees from asking applicants to disclose their criminal histories prior to an offer of employment.

The Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance (FCIHO), adopted last month by LA City Council, will be one of the most restrictive for private employers, going beyond measures set in other parts of the country, including New York and San Francisco.

According to FCIHO guidelines, employers conducting business in Los Angeles may no longer include questions on job applications asking for information regarding an applicant’s criminal history. Employers will also be required to state in all job postings, solicitations, and advertisements that they will consider applicants with criminal histories in a manner consistent with the new ordinance.

In addition, employers who wish to rescind an employment offer after learning of an applicant’s criminal history must first perform a written assessment linking the applicant’s criminal history with “risks inherent in the duties of the employment position.”  The assessment must also consider such factors as the gravity of the offense and the time elapsed.

Before officially withdrawing an offer, an employer must follow the “Fair Chance Process,” which includes providing the applicant with written notification of the adverse employment action, a copy of the written assessment described above, and any other information or documentation supporting the proposed adverse action.   The employer must then allow at least five business days for the applicant to respond with additional information. If the applicant provides mitigating information, the employer must perform a reassessment and provide the applicant with a written copy.

 

Other items from the ordinance LA employers need to consider:

 

  1. A notice must be posted in a conspicuous place informing all applicants that the employer follows all provisions of the Fair Chance Initiative;
  2. Employers may not retaliate against anyone who complains about noncompliance or who tries to enforce rights granted under the ordinance;
  3. Employers must retain all job applications, written assessments and reassessments for a period of three years;
  4. The law is effective immediately, but until July 1, 2017, the only penalty for noncompliance will be a written warning. Starting July 1, 2017, employers that violate the ordinance may be subject to fines and penalties.

 

Employers exempt from the FCIHO include those prohibited by law from hiring individuals with criminal convictions or who are required to possess or use a firearm.

 

For a more in-depth article from Biz Journal, click here.
To read the Fair Chance Initiative in full, click here.

LA Votes to Ban the Box

On November 30, the Los Angeles City Council voted 12-1 to approve an ordinance which prohibits LA employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until a conditional job offer has been made.

This ordinance adheres to the nationwide “Ban the Box” movement which calls for the removal of check boxes or questions on job forms that ask a person to disclose their criminal history.  The goal of this movement is aimed at giving formerly incarcerated people a better chance at obtaining employment.  So far, more than 100 jurisdictions in 23 states have passed laws that prevent employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history during the first stages of the hiring process.

Because the initial vote was not unanimous the city council will vote again this month, but the law is still expected to pass since subsequent votes only require a majority. If given final approval, LA employers (except in fields such as child care and law enforcement) with 10 or more employees and city contractors will be prohibited from asking about criminal records on their job applications. Any employer who then decides against hiring someone after learning of their criminal history would need to provide justification for why the offer is being rescinded.

The policy is expected to go into effect January 1, 2017.

For an article from ABC go to: http://abc7.com/business/la-city-council-approves-ban-on-criminal-records-disclosure-for-job-applicants/1634700/

USCIS ISSUES NEW FORM I-9 FOR U.S. EMPLOYEES

On November 14, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a new version of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.

Implemented in 1986 by the Immigration Reform and Control Act, employers use Form I-9 to verify a person’s identity and eligibility to work in the U.S. Employers are required to keep an I-9 Form on file for every employee on their payroll.

Changes to the Form that employers should be aware of include:

  • Section 1 now only requires “other last names used” rather than all “other names used.”
  • The certification for certain foreign nationals has been streamlined and now takes less time to complete.
  • Prompts have been included to ensure information is entered correctly.
  • Space has been added in order to enter multiple preparers and translators.
  • A supplemental page for the preparer/translator has also been added.
  • There is now a dedicated area for including additional information rather than having to add it by writing in the margins.
  • The instructions have been separated from the form and include specific instructions for completing each field.

Additions have also been made to make the form easier to complete electronically:

  • Drop-down lists and calendars for filling in dates.
  • On-screen instructions for each field as well as easy access to the full instructions.
  • Checks to ensure information is entered correctly.
  • A button to print the form.
  • An option to clear the form and start over.
  • When the form is completed and printed, a quick response code is automatically generated.

It is important for employers to review the instructions for completing the new Form I-9 before using it for hiring purposes. Employers should also continue to follow the existing storage and retention rules for all of their previously completed Forms I-9.

The deadline for employers to make the switch to the revised form for new hires is January 22, 2017. It is not necessary to issue the revised form to current employees.

For more information about USCIS and its programs, please visit uscis.gov.

Uber Enacts “Selfie Identification”

On September 23rd, Uber announced a new policy that will require its drivers to take periodic selfies to prove their identity before they can accept a ride request. Using technology from Microsoft’s Cognitive Services, the new feature, called “Real-Time ID Check”, will help to ensure that the driver using the app is the same person Uber has on file.

The goal behind Uber’s new policy is not only to “prevent fraud and protect driver accounts”, Uber wrote in a Blog Post. “It also protects riders by building another layer of accountability into the app to ensure the right person is behind the wheel.”

Uber has been in the news a lot recently, mostly due to the controversy over how they conduct background checks for their drivers.  Multiple women have filed lawsuits against Uber, claiming they were assaulted by their drivers and that the company hasn’t done enough to prevent these attacks.  Some critics argue that Uber should fingerprint their drivers, an argument that forced the ride-share company out of some US cities, but the company believes that its present background checks are sufficient. In addition to an application, potential drivers must provide a copy of their driver’s license, as well as proof of vehicle inspection, registration, and insurance.

Previously, Uber was testing “Real-Time ID Check” in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Atlanta. But the policy was expanded nationwide after the announcement was made.

For more information see this article from The Washington Post 

THE ARGUMENT FOR REGULATING APP-BASED RIDE COMPANIES CONTINUES IN MASSACHUSSETTS

On August 5, 2016 Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts signed a law enacting more regulations for Uber, Lyft, and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). This makes Massachusetts the latest state to approve stronger regulations for TNCs and the first to implement a way to help aid the failing taxi industry. Under the new law, TNC drivers will undergo two stages of background checks. The first will be run by the TNCs themselves, and the second will be conducted by the state and will include a look at criminal and sex offender history. The new legislation in Massachusetts also calls for a 20-cent per ride fee that the TNCs will be responsible for. A portion of this new fee will go toward helping taxi companies who have been hurt by the new technology. This fee will not be passed along to the customers. One proposal of the law did call for fingerprinting of TNC drivers (something that taxi drivers are subject too) but it did not make the final draft of the legislation.

You can read a full article about Massachusetts’ new law here: http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20160805/governor-baker-signs-bill-regulating-uber-lyft-others

New regulations for TNC drivers and whether or not they should be fingerprinted is a nationwide topic of discussion right now, with some cities like Austin, Houston, and Chicago taking the matter into their own hands. Currently, the California Public Utilities Commission is discussing this issue and if you would like to weigh in on the matter, you can take an online survey at: http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/webform.aspx?ekfrm=11394
(see the results of the survey at: http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/fingerprinting/ )

Massachusetts legislation aspires to phase out gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

You know the “employment history” section on most job applications? Of course you do. That’s where you typically wrestle with whether to lie about how much you made in past jobs in the hope of getting a fatter offer for this one.

By July 2018, though, Massachusetts job seekers will become the first in the nation to be free of that ethical and strategic struggle. On Monday, Republican governor Charlie Baker signed a bipartisan bill making it illegal for employers in the state to ask job applicants to disclose their wage or salary history. Among other things, the law also requires companies to pay men and women equally when they do “comparable” work, not just when they hold identical titles and job descriptions.

While the Massachusetts law is ambitious, it doesn’t block every imaginable tactic employers can deploy to hold down labor costs.
It’s an unprecedented step toward closing the gender pay gap—since women typically earn less than men, an employer that bases compensation on a candidate’s earning history is likely to (literally) shortchange her—at a time when states are picking up the slack on the issue from a deadlocked Congress. Most recently, California and New York enacted legislation to promote equal pay and salary transparency.

But while the Massachusetts law is ambitious, it doesn’t block every imaginable tactic employers can deploy to hold down labor costs—even at the disproportionate expense of certain candidates. Here’s what the new measure covers (and what it doesn’t), how employers are responding, and which changes to watch for next.

 
Originally posted by Fast Company. Read the full article at: http://www.fastcompany.com/3062547/the-future-of-work/how-massachusettss-new-pay-law-will-help-close-the-gender-wage-gap-and-ho

The Pros And Cons Of Fingerprinting Uber Drivers

“Uber’s ruthless expansion strategy has put state and local legislators in the middle of the debate over regulation of the on-demand, ride-hailing workforce. Laws requiring background checks for drivers, which can restrict access to Uber’s core asset, are now a central theme of the regulatory battle, focusing specifically on the use of state and federal criminal history databases that require fingerprinting of ride-hailing drivers.

Indeed, Uber and Lyft recently chose to abandon the Austin, Texas market rather than comply with local laws requiring taxi drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks (56 percent of Austin voters rejected an initiative to exempt on-demand companies from the city’s law). And in New Jersey and Chicago, where similar measures are now being actively debated, Uber retained former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lobby against the bills by challenging the accuracy and fairness of fingerprint-based FBI background checks (which is an issue that NELP has championed as an advocate of bi-partisan federal reform legislation).

To help inform the debate, it’s important to first clarify that “fingerprinting” is a shorthand term referring to background checks that require an individual’s fingerprint (usually captured by means of “livescan” technology) to access either a state criminal history repository or the FBI database, which collects data from the state and local systems. In contrast to name-based checks conducted by commercial background check companies, fingerprint-based checks are less vulnerable to misidentification. In addition, private employers typically cannot access the databases requiring fingerprinting of the workers unless authorized by a federal, state, or local occupational licensing law, like the ride-hailing laws regulating taxi drivers. Instead, with varying degrees of accuracy, the commercial background check companies collect criminal history data from the local courts, the states, and “aggregators” of criminal history data.”

Originally posted by The Huffington Post. Full Article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maurice-emsellem/fingerprinting-uber-drivers_b_10972428.html