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A major banking and mortgage company dropped the ax recently on a 58-year-old mortgage unit employee when a criminal background check revealed a shoplifting conviction in her past — 40 years past.
Criminal background checks are an important element of the hiring process for many jobs, as businesspeople seek to protect the interests of themselves and their customers from obvious risks.
Most of the situations are no-brainers: A trucking company, for instance, wouldn’t hire someone with a driving record that included criminal charges. You wouldn’t intentionally hire the fox to guard the henhouse.
But how far back should you go in holding someone accountable for a criminal action? Four decades, like this case?
The ex-employee admitted her youthful indiscretion — she was 18 at the time, just out of high school.
She had by all accounts been a responsible employee for Wells Fargo.
She didn’t understand why something that happened 40 years ago should cost her a job today.
A Wells Fargo spokesperson explained that in light of recent legal changes and regulations, the company initiated background checks on everyone who worked in the mortgage unit.
There’s no statute of limitations on how long you could hold a charge like this against someone, says the National Institute of Justice.
Nonetheless, most employers set their own statute of limitations, usually between 5 and 10 years.
In addition, recent guidance from the EEOC gives employers a little breathing room when considering a job applicant with a less-than-perfect record.
Employers can ask people in this situation for their explanation of what happened, and take that into account when making a hiring decision.