Background Checks May Be a Casualty of Pandemic-Induced Staffing Shortage; Labor and Employment Attorney Looks at Why They Still Matter

Plus, how reference checks are different from background checks

Media Contact: Barbara Fornasiero, EAFocus Communications, 248.260.8466;

Detroit-–March 24, 2022-–-Have background checks taken a back seat – or been shelved altogether – in the midst of pandemic-spawned staffing crisis? Recent news that the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency failed to do background checks on thousands of new employees and inadvertently hired hundreds of individuals with a history of fraud and identity theft, puts the focus back on this once-ubiquitous step in the hiring process, according to Deborah Brouwer, managing partner of Detroit-based labor and employment law firm Nemeth Law, P.C.

“Background checks were once a staple of the hiring process, and job offers were frequently withheld pending their completion,” Brouwer said. “With employers feverishly seeking to hire in almost every industry and profession amid a national talent shortage, it may be that some dangerous shortcuts are being taken.”

Brouwer notes that background checks may include a look into the applicant’s credit history and criminal record, if any. While criminal records shouldn’t automatically preclude returning citizens from employment, they may rightly exclude them from certain jobs, depending on the nature and age of the conviction. For example, it would be inadvisable to hire someone convicted of embezzling for a position requiring check signing or the regular handling of cash. Also, an individual with a documented history of workplace violence might be a dangerous hire in a variety of employment settings, potentially putting employees at risk of harm in addition to lawsuits filed against the employer should an act of violence occur.

Background checks are different than reference checks, Brouwer explained.

“Reference checks are conducted based on personal or professional references provided by the prospective hire. While they can be helpful, they are handpicked and generally likely to be favorable,” Brouwer said.  “When advising employers on hiring processes, I definitely recommend background checks first and foremost because they provide information that is less likely to be obtained from a reference.”

But how about ban the box?

A national movement about five years ago sought to ‘ban the box’, referring to the box on a job application asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. In Michigan, then Gov. Rick Snyder signed a 2018 law that prohibited the question from being asked on state applications for employment and encouraged private employers to do the same. That same year, though, the Michigan legislature enacted a law prohibiting all local governmental entities from adopting ‘ban the box’ ordinances. As Michigan law currently stands, generally, an employer may inquire into pending felony charges and may ask a job applicant if he or she has been convicted of a crime.

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