Supreme Court Backs Up Employee Background Checks

background check, employee screening The U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled that background checks of scientists by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) did not violate their constitutional rights. In a unanimous decision, the Court backed up the Obama administration, which defended background security investigations they called “standard” for federal employees since 1953 and for contractors since 2005.

NASA instituted the background checks for every employee with access to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California beginning in 2007. 28 scientists, engineers and others challenged the depth of the background checks as needlessly intrusive, citing requests for information on medical treatment and counseling for drug use, and some sensitive matters. They challenged the potential loss of their jobs for refusing to undergo the investigation, and won in an appeals court.

The Supreme Court justices overturned that U.S. appeals court ruling that had blocked NASA from conducting the background checks. In its opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that the questions being challenged were reasonable inquires that allow the government to properly manage internal operations. Further, the questions were found to be employment-related, and similar to those used by millions of private employers.

The justices rejected “the argument that the government, when it requests job-related personal information in an employment background check, has a constitutional burden to demonstrate that its questions are ‘necessary’ or the least restrictive means of furthering its interests.”

The government also has an interest in conducting background checks to ensure the security of its facilities and to deploy a competent, reliable workforce, the justices said in the ruling. Further, they stated there are sufficient protections in place to prevent disclosure of sensitive information to the public.

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