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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.

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.

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

“LA City Hall panel backs fining companies for asking applicants about past crimes”

“Businesses that ask a job applicant about his or her criminal history during the hiring process could be fined and forced to pay the applicant up to $500 under a new law being considered by city leaders.

A Los Angeles City Council committee backed a plan Tuesday to penalize businesses that weed out applicants based on criminal convictions.

The rules are part of a law under consideration by the council aimed at giving former convicts a better shot at obtaining employment.

The Ban the Box ordinance, approved in concept last year by the council, bans private employers with 10 or more workers from asking questions related to an applicant’s criminal history before a conditional offer of employment has been made.

Employers also have to strip criminal history questions from job applications under the proposed law. The “box” refers to “check box” indicating a conviction on an application.

Exemptions for employers in the child care or law enforcement industry are allowed under the ordinance.

Los Angeles non-profits, churches, and other groups support the law, contending it will cut jail recidivism rates by helping former convicts land jobs.

Both the state and federal governments have similar rules in place for applicants seeking public sector jobs, while San Francisco has laws that also apply to private companies.

Some Los Angeles business groups, including the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, oppose the proposed Los Angeles law.”

 

Originally posted by Dakota Smith of The Los Angeles Daily News. Full article at http://www.dailynews.com/government-and-politics/20160628/la-city-hall-panel-backs-fining-companies-for-asking-applicants-about-past-crimes

OBAMA SUPPORTS “BAN THE BOX” FOR FEDERAL JOB APPLICATIONS

“President Obama said Monday he was directing federal agencies to “ban the box” in their hiring decisions, prohibiting them from asking prospective government employees about their criminal histories on job applications.

Speaking at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., where he highlighted programs meant to ease the reentry of former inmates into society, Obama said the federal government “should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications.”

It’s unclear how many federal agencies would be affected by Obama’s action. Many agencies already delay asking about criminal history until later in the hiring process, but Obama is directing the Office of Personnel Management to issue guidance making that practice universal across the federal government.

“It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We’re not suggesting ignore it,” Obama said. “What we are suggesting is that when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so they can make their case.”

And while civil rights groups applauded the move, many had hoped for an even more sweeping executive order. The American Civil Liberties Union called the move “an important first step,” but called on him to follow up with an order that would apply not only to federal employees, but federal contractors. Obama has used 15 similar orders during his presidency to force companies doing business with the government to raise the minimum wage, adopt non-discrimination policies and grant workers paid time off.

“While the president is with us in spirit, his administration is not yet ready to make an executive order a reality,” said Wade Henderson of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

White House spokesman Frank Benenati said the president prefers congressional action on contractors  “as the best path forward for making sure this effort will have the most significant impact and is written into law so it can last beyond this administration.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is sponsoring that legislation with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Monday that he’s “really happy to see the president continue to push the envelope” and bring attention to the issue.

But the ban-the-box effort, he said,  “should be done legislatively, so that the stroke of another president’s pen can’t undo it.”

Obama highlighted offender reentry programs Monday in New Jersey as part of a nationwide tour to build support for Congress to overhaul the criminal justice system.

His first stop in Newark was a tour of Integrity House, a halfway house and drug rehabilitation center that gets 85% of its referrals from the criminal justice system. Meeting with former prison inmates who are now residents of the house, Obama said the center does “outstanding work with folks with addiction issues,” and said he hoped his visit would “highlight what is working” across the country.

Obama highlighted the story of Dquan Rosario, who served time in prison for drugs but then, at age 37, went back to school and is now an emergency medical technician in Newark. Obama said Rosario’s story shows it’s never too late for a second chance.

“There are people who have gone through tough times. They’ve made mistakes. But with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path. That is what we have to invest in, that is what we need to believe in,” Obama said.”

 

Originally posted by USA Today. Full article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/11/02/obama-tells-federal-agencies-ban-box-federal-job-applications/75050792/

BEST PRACTICES FOR COMPLYING WITH NEW YORK CITY FAIR CHANCE ACT

“Given the imminent effective date of New York City’s Fair Chance Act, employers may be wondering what they need to do to comply with the law.  As many employers are aware, effective October 27, 2015, the Fair Chance Act amends the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit most employers from inquiring about criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment is extended. (Some employers may fall into the exceptions of this law.)  The law also imposes upon employers the obligation to provide applicants with a copy of the relevant inquiry (e.g. the consumer report) and the company’s analysis under Article 23-A of the New York Corrections Law (in a form provided by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (“NYCCHR”)).  On Friday, October 23, 2015, the NYCCHR released its Fair Chance Act Notice form, and is expected to release its enforcement guidance imminently.  In the meantime, we recommend employers consider the following:

  1. Review all pre-employment forms.  Employers should ensure that job advertisements, applications for employment, interview questionnaires, and all other pre-conditional offer documents make no reference to the fact that a background check will be conducted, that criminal history will be considered, or otherwise inquire about criminal history.
  2. Train hiring managers.  Hiring managers should be trained not to ask questions about criminal history prior to a conditional offer of employment.  If a job candidate independently informs the manager of his or her criminal background prior to a conditional offer, managers should be trained to respond that such information is not considered by the Company at this stage in the process.
  3. Revise the adverse action protocol.   The Fair Chance Act requires that prior to taking adverse action based on criminal history an employer:
    1. provide the applicant with a copy of the “inquiry” (which by definition includes “any question communicated to an applicant in writing,” “any searches of publicly available records,” or consumer reports);
    2. conduct an analysis in accordance with Article 23-A and provide a written copy of that analysis to the applicant, and any supporting documentation that impacted the analysis; and
    3. keep the job opportunity open for at least three business days after the applicant receives the above documentation before taking adverse action.

The law anticipates that employers provide a copy of the Article 23-A analysis in the form provided by the NYCCHR.

  1. Consider best practices for direct inquiries to the applicant.  Many employers may still wish to ask the applicant personally whether he or she has a criminal history.  Such inquiry is still permissible under the Fair Chance Act, provided (1) it occurs after a conditional offer of employment is given; (2) the applicant is provided a copy of the inquiry, at the same time as the applicant is given the consumer report and any Article 23-A analysis (as described above); and (3) the question otherwise complies with the state law limitations as to the type of criminal history an employer is permitted by law to consider.  Employers are still able to terminate or refuse to hire an individual who makes misrepresentations in responding to a criminal history inquiry, but employers should follow the notice protocol above and as set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) before taking action.
  2. Review FCRA disclosure forms.  Employers should ensure that their FCRA disclosure forms accurately describe the information to be obtained by the Company in a consumer report.  And, particularly in light of the Fair Chance Act’s companion law, the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act (SCDEA), applicants should not receive disclosure forms mentioning that a consumer report may include credit history information, unless the applicant meets an exception under the law.”

Originally posted by Lexology. Full article at http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=79e01e92-5fd0-4607-9728-fb8575f23655

BMW SETTLES EEOC CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK SUIT FOR 1.6 MILLION

“BMW Manufacturing Co. L.L.C. will pay $1.6 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that charged it was liable for race discrimination in connection with its former criminal background checks policy, which allegedly disproportionately affected African-Americans, the agency said Tuesday.

The 2013 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Spartanburg, North Carolina, alleged that when Spartanburg-based BMW switched contractors handling the company’s logistics at its production facility there in 2008, it required the new contractor to perform a criminal background screen on all existing logistics employees who reapplied to continue working in their positions at BMW, the EEOC said in a statement.

At that time, BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines excluded from employment all persons with convictions in certain categories of crime, regardless of how long ago the employee had been convicted or whether the conviction was for a misdemeanor or felony, the EEOC said.

According to the complaint, after the criminal background checks were performed, BMW learned that about 100 incumbent logistics workers at the facility, 80% of whom were black, were disqualified from employment. The EEOC lawsuit sought relief for 56 black employees who were discharged.

Under terms of the settlement, in addition to paying $1.6 million to resolve the litigation, BMW will offer employment opportunities to the discharged workers in the suit as well as up to 90 African-American applicants whom BMW’s contractor refused to hire based on BMW’s previous conviction records guidelines, among other provisions.

“EEOC has been clear that while a company may choose to use criminal history as a screening device in employment, Title VII requires that when a criminal background screen results in the disproportionate exclusion of African-Americans from job opportunities, the employer must evaluate whether the policy is job-related and consistent with a business necessity,” said David Lopez, the EEOC’s general counsel, in the statement.

BMW said in its statement that the settlement “affirms BMW’s right to use criminal background checks in hiring the workforce at the BMW plant in South Carolina. The use of criminal background

checks is to ensure the safety and well-being of all who work at the BMW plant site.

“BMW has maintained throughout the proceedings that it did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and does not discriminate by race in its hiring as evidenced by its large and highly diverse workforce.

The BMW plant in South Carolina is in a United States Foreign Trade Zone under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. BMW is a member of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and therefore has a business necessity to require criminal background checks not only for its employees but also the employees of vendors, temporary agencies, and contractors who have access to the plant site.” “

Originally posted by BusinessInsurance.com full article at http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20150908/NEWS06/150909821

TRUCKING FIRM TO PAY UP IN EEOC PRE-EMNPLOYMENT EXAM CASE

“An Indianapolis trucking firm has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission disability discrimination case, in which it was charged with requiring pre-employment medical exams.

The EEOC said Tuesday that Indianapolis-based Celadon Trucking Services Inc. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by subjecting applicants to medical exams before making a conditional offer of employment, and discriminating against applicants based on disability or perceived disability.

The agency said that on June 30, the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis ruled that the company violated the ADA by conducting unlawful medical inquires and exams of applicants for over-the-road truck driving positions, and that in two cases, it unlawfully dismissed two class members from a driver orientation program because of their disabilities, in violation of the ADA.

In addition to paying $200,000 in damages to 23 former Celadon applicants, the settlement requires the company to train its management employees on disability discrimination, among other provisions.

“The law is clear: Celadon cannot subject applicant drivers to disability-related inquiries and medical examinations without first extending to these applicants a conditional job offer,” said Laurie A. Young, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Indianapolis district office, in a statement.

“Celadon’s policies must conform to the requirements of the ADA. We are satisfied that this settlement serves the public interest, and we are confident that the relief obtained will prevent the recurrence of this type of discrimination,” Ms. Young said.

Celadon’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, an Arkansas trucking firm was ordered to pay $477,399 in an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit in which it was charged with subjecting its truck-driver workforce to overly broad medical inquiries.”

Originally posted by Business Insurance. Article can be found at http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20150804/NEWS06/150809951/trucking-firm-to-pay-up-in-eeoc-pre-employment-exam-case?tags=%7C338%7C70%7C75%7C80%7C83%7C302

SEC CLARIFIES WHISTLE BLOWER PROTECTIONS AGAINST EMPLOYER RETALIATIONS

“The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued an interpretive rule clarifying that whistleblowers are protected by retaliation by employers even if they have not reported their concerns to the SEC first.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 included a section offering incentives and protections to individuals who report possible violations of the federal securities laws, including protections against employer retaliation. The SEC issued rules in 2011 spelling out how the whistleblower protections would work, but there was some ambiguity when the SEC specified how whistleblowers should report a tip to the SEC in order to qualify for a whistleblower award, and those who would be protected from employer retaliation.

In particular, questions arose over whether an employee who first reported the matter internally to their employer, such as a compliance department, would be protected from retaliation from that same employer, or only those who reported directly to the SEC.

“Our interpretation best comports with our overall goals in implementing the whistleblower program,” said the SEC in the rule it issued last week. “Specifically, by providing employment retaliation protections for individuals who report internally first to a supervisor, compliance official, or other person working for the company that has authority to investigate, discover, or terminate misconduct, our interpretive rule avoids a two-tiered structure of employment retaliation protection that might discourage some individuals from first reporting internally in appropriate circumstances and, thus, jeopardize the investor-protection and law-enforcement benefits that can result from internal reporting. Under our interpretation, an individual who reports internally and suffers employment retaliation will be no less protected than an individual who comes immediately to the Commission. Providing equivalent employment retaliation protection for both situations removes a potentially serious disincentive to internal reporting by employees in appropriate circumstances. A contrary interpretation would undermine the other incentives that were put in place through the Commission’s whistleblower rules in order to encourage internal reporting.”

The Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection advocacy organization, and Labaton Sucharow LLP, a law firm that specializes in securities class-action lawsuits, wrote a letter Tuesday to SEC chair Mary Jo White thanking her for the interpretive rule, but also asked for further protections.

They pointed out that the new rule clarifies that any disclosure protected by the Sarbanes Oxley Act is shielded from retaliation under its Whistleblower Program. In effect, according to them, protection extends to disclosures within a corporation, to other law enforcement audiences, or to the public. Protection also extends to any violation of federal law, not just those enforced by the SEC. However, they cautioned that the SEC should take additional measures to address the remaining vulnerabilities they identified in a petition last summer to the SEC.

“Our July 2014 petition emphasized that new and creative forms of corporate prior restraint are preventing disclosures from happening at all, making academic the issue of subsequent retaliation,” wrote GAP legal director Tom Devine and Labaton Sucharow partner Jordan Thomas. “Merely presenting employees with nondisclosure agreements creates a chilling effect, and there are no rights for refusing to agree—only for violating one with protected speech. Further, corporations regularly file breach of contract lawsuits, theft of corporate records actions, and other litigation attacks outside the employment context. Realistically, to prevent a chilling effect on the flow of evidence necessary for SEC oversight, it is necessary to go beyond interpretations that restrict harassment of incumbent employees.” ”

Article posted by Accounting Today. Original article at http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/audit-accounting/sec-clarifies-whistleblower-protections-employer-retaliation-75468-1.html

TSA BACKGROUND CHECKS PASS 73 PEOPLE WITH POSSIBLE TERRORIST TIES

” Background checks by the Transportation Security Administration cleared 73 people for access to secure airport areas even though their names were on a federal database of possible terrorists, a senior official told a Senate committee Tuesday.

The latest security lapse came to light as John Roth, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, delivered a scathing report on problems and blunders at the long-troubled agency.

They include inadequate baggage screening, hiring of convicted criminals, questionable spending, and narcotics smuggling and human trafficking by TSA employees.

“We remain deeply concerned about [the TSA’s] ability to execute its important mission,” Roth told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The hearing was held a week after Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, reassigned the acting administrator of the TSA in the wake of reports that auditors from Roth’s office had successfully slipped mock explosives and weapons past TSA checkpoints 67 out of 70 times.

The White House has nominated Peter V. Neffenger, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, to take the helm of the TSA. Neffenger is expected to win approval from the Senate committee after a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

In the latest case, Roth said, his investigators had found the names of 73 airport workers “with possible terrorism-related information” in a classified federal database that the TSA could not normally access.

“TSA acknowledged that these individuals were cleared for access to secure airport areas despite representing a potential security threat,” Roth testified.

Roth said the risk was discovered after he asked the National Counterterrorism Center to check more than 900,000 active aviation workers against the classified intelligence database called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE. It contains confirmed and unconfirmed information about people with potential terrorist links.

The search found 73 matches of people cleared for access to secure areas. Investigators immediately gave the TSA the names that raised concerns, Roth said. He did not say whether they included any TSA employees, when the discovery was made, or whether any of the people posed an actual threat.

The names of people who are hired by airlines and airport vendors are normally checked against a more narrow, unclassified database that is maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.

Last year, then-TSA head John Pistole sent a letter to the FBI asking that TSA background checks also include a search of the bigger, more inclusive database, Roth said. But the FBI and the intelligence community have not acted, he said.

“I can’t imagine the FBI would not have moved on this with the utmost haste,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said at the hearing. “The bureaucracy can’t hold this up.”

The fact that 73 workers with potential links to terrorism had access to the secure areas of airports “really does give you pause,” Ayotte said, “because it really only takes one.”

Roth also repeatedly criticized the TSA’s use of PreCheck, which allows expedited screening of vetted passengers. He said the TSA allows expedited screening of nearly half the flying public, often by randomly pulling people out of line.

In one case, he said, a convicted felon who was “a former member of a domestic terrorist group” was granted expedited screening even though the traveler was “sufficiently notorious” that a TSA screener recognized him.

The screener “notified his supervisor, who directed him to take no further action and allow the traveler to proceed through the PreCheck lane,” Rush said. He did not identify the passenger. ”

 

 

Originally posted by The Los Angeles Times. Article can be found at http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-tsa-security-lapse-20150609-story.html