Privacy Implications of Employment Background Checks: U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Employers


Employers in the public and private sector should take note of the path taken by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision on January 19th, addressing a privacy challenge to a background check by government contractor employees. The case, NASA v. Nelson (NASA), overturned a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling holding that certain questions in a background check were an unconstitutional violation of the “right to informational privacy.” The Supreme Court determined that the disputed questions used in the background check were reasonable in light of the government’s interests in managing its internal operations.

Of interest to private employers is the Court’s favorable acknowledgment that private employers frequently and legitimately use background checks. This case should remind all employers to take note of the requirements associated with such pre-employment inquiries and update their background check process for compliance with the current state of the law.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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