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Does New York law require notice to the employee in order to have a consumer reporting agency conduct a background check in connection with the employee’s misconduct?

The NY FCRA sets forth notice and authorization requirements for investigative consumer reports as shown in “https://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2017/gbs/article-25/380-c/” NY Gen Bus L § 380-C. However, this section is silent on the issue of employee misconduct investigations and we found no  language in NY FCRA law that is analogous to the federal FCRA exemption for employee misconduct investigations as provided in 15 U.S.C.1681a(y)(1).

When analyzing this question, we reviewed a 2006 opinion by the Oklahoma Attorney General that addressed a very similar issue. A state senator wanted to know whether OK employers could rely on the FACTA amendment to the federal FCRA that provides the exemption for employee misconduct investigations and dispense with the OK notice requirements for consumer reports. The OK AG said “no,” the reason being that the OK statute (which specifically references the previously enacted federal FCRA) was enacted before FACTA and the OK legislature did not indicate in the statute that amendments to the original FCRA would also be adopted.

Of course, the AG opinion is not a binding law anywhere, including in OK. But it does show how the issue may be analyzed to the detriment of the employer if it arose in litigation. Like the OK statute, the NY FCRA was enacted well before the FACTA amendment in 2003 (NY FCRA was enacted in 1977). However, unlike the OK statute, the NY FCRA does not include any references to the federal FCRA and, therefore, does not rely on any of its language as originally enacted. That is a distinction that can undermine an OK AG-type analysis to the NY FCRA.

The most we can say is that the NY FCRA does not address employee misconduct investigations and that the federal FCRA does set forth an express exemption from its notice requirements for such investigations. Whether there is a conflict between the NY notice requirements (or any other state’s notice requirements) and the federal exemption for employee misconduct investigations remains to be seen and there are no court opinions addressing the issue.

In the absence of guidance from NY FCRA regarding employee misconduct investigations, the employer can follow the federal FCRA exemption for these investigations. It would be prudent for the employer to document the need for confidentiality of the investigation, specifying the reasons why alerting the employee would undermine the investigation.

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