Fingerprint vs. Name-Based: Which Background Screening Solution Is Best for Employers?

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably heard about states and municipalities passing bills requiring FBI or state fingerprint background checks for certain industries.

While it’s good to see the government supporting employee and consumer safety, it’s also important to recognize that fingerprint checks aren’t the only type of criminal background checks. Background screening companies perform name-based checks, in which personal identifiers (including names, addresses and Social Security numbers) are used to find criminal history information.

This raises an important question: Which make more sense for employers, fingerprint checks or name-based checks?

SterlingBackcheck’s report “Fingerprints vs. Name-Based Background Checks” provides an in-depth investigation, but I’ll summarize the key points about these two types of checks to help you decide which is best for your company..

Fingerprint checks

It’s easy to see why many people consider fingerprint checks the gold standard of criminal background screening.

Fingerprints are unique identifiers, and are a core part of how law enforcement keeps track of criminals. Plus, as noted earlier, the government is increasingly mandating them.

There is a significant problem, however. Fingerprint checks have limitations and shortcomings that actually make them poorly suited for employment screening. In fact, the FBI and state fingerprint databases aren’t even designed for employment screening — they are designed for providing law enforcement with leads in criminal investigations. And there are some serious flaws as a result, including:

  • The FBI database is missing as many as 50% of all criminal records.
  • Fingerprint-based records are updated irregularly, so they are often weeks or even months out of date.
  • Arrest records are often included. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance says arrests that don’t result in a conviction should not be considered in hiring decisions due to disproportionate impact on minority communities.
  • FBI reports (a.k.a. rap sheets) don’t allow subjects to challenge the results of a background check.

Considering the flaws, why are legislators increasingly mandating fingerprint checks? It might be that they are simply unaware of the flaws, and that there are other screening alternatives.

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Name-based checks

In name-based checks, professional screeners use personal identifiers to find local, state and federal records of arrests and their outcomes, a much more thorough and comprehensive approach than fingerprint checks.

Name-based checks, which are specifically designed for employment screening, have a number of advantages, including:

  • Only convictions (no arrests) are included in reports, consistent with EEOC guidance.
  • In addition to criminal history, background screening companies can also provide other valuable information (driving and employment records, education verification, professional certification, etc.).
  • A thorough adverse action process gives candidates the ability to challenge the results of background checks. Screening companies are required to follow this process under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • Results are typically delivered within a few days, while fingerprint check lag times can be weeks.

While fingerprint checks are generating headlines, name-base checks’ value is increasingly recognized. For example, a regulatory agency for the financial industry (FINRA) passed a rule requiring name-based-style checks that went into effect on July 1, 2015. Also, name-based checks have been recognized as the standard for the ride-sharing industry.

A place for bothBackground checks comparsion chart

Name-based checks are more complete and compliant than fingerprint checks — and, as a result, are the better choice for minimizing your hiring risk and protecting your brand’s reputation.

That’s not to say fingerprint checks don’t have value. They can be a part of a strong employment background screening program, provided they are used in conjunction with quality, name-based checks.

Angela Preston is senior vice president and counsel, corporate ethics and compliance for SterlingBackcheck.com. Angela has broad industry experience including more than 20 years as a licensed attorney and 12 years as a leader and expert in the background screening industry. She has extensive expertise in employment law, privacy law, EEO law, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Contact her at Angela.Preston@sterlingbackcheck.com.

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