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Spotlight on: Can You Do Employee Background Checks Long After Hiring?

New York City

Spotlight on: Employee Background Checks
Oct. 7, 2014

With residential buildings, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 32BJ allows security background checks only "on change of ownership or conversion of the status of a building or employee," according to the union contact. For buildings, a change in status generally means new ownership or conversion from rental to co-op or condo. For employees, change in status means promotion from handyman or porter to super, according to a 32BJ spokesperson. Lateral moves such as reassignment from one building in a complex to another don't count.

 Does hiring a new management company constitute a change in a building's status? Not according to the union.

So What Exactly Is a Background Check?

While it's still standard to check out employer references to verify dates of employment, what most people mean by "background check" is some combination of criminal, credit and driving-record review. And don't neglect a good ol' Google search.

Have an experienced 

management company

do the background check

rather than yourself.

Be cautious with online investigative sites, which generally combine public-record databases with those of private data-collection companies. They may update their aggregated info as often as several times a week or as seldom as a few times a year. You also might wind up paying for government-record searches you can do yourself for free.

 That's one reason to have an experienced management company do such investigations, rather than doing it yourself. In addition, privacy laws are both strict and complicated. Some parts of a background check fall under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, which says you can't legally search for bankruptcies older than ten years, nor for civil suits and judgments, records of arrest or paid tax liens, among other things, older than seven years.

Case-by-Case Basis

As for criminal convictions, your search can be as long as the arm of the law, subject to particular state regulations. Still, if it was many years ago and the person had an explanation, references may more telling than an arrest record from when an employee was 20 years old. Experts caution taking each situation on a case by case basis.

None of this, however, addresses what happens if you have legitimate concerns about an extant employee, and do a background check that uncovers something troubling — or even horrible. And in a union residential co-op or condo, you can't even do a background check on an existing employee, unless he or she is getting a promotion.


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Adapted from "Something Old, Discovered" by Frank Lovece (Habitat, September 2008)

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