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Opinion | For our safety, Michigan must allow job background checks

Small businesses have been through enough over the last 18 months with closures, high inflation and a massive workforce shortage. They are just now getting back on their feet. But another change is coming that could make it harder for people trying to rebuild and put our families and friends back to work. The state Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer need to intervene now to put a stop to it.

Brian Calley, Amanda Fisher
Brian Calley is president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. Amanda Fisher is assistant director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Michigan.

The Michigan Supreme Court is looking to enforce a new rule starting on Jan. 1 that would stop local businesses from completing background checks on potential employees or vendors. The rule would redact essential information from court records, making it nearly impossible for employers to get an accurate picture of a potential employee’s background before hiring them. This change creates real roadblocks for employers, especially when trying to check the background of someone with a common name. 

Many of our small businesses that work in childcare, financial services, healthcare and other sensitive areas rely heavily on background checks. We trust them to do their due diligence when their employees work directly with vulnerable individuals and children. That's just common sense. But under this new rule, we will all have to live with the unknowns of a criminal past. 

The risk of someone with certain types of criminal backgrounds working with vulnerable children, the sick and the elderly is not one any small business or any of us should have to take. In addition, certain businesses are required to do background checks under federal and state laws. The inability to properly vet potential employees could open small businesses to fines and lawsuits that they can ill afford.

All businesses deserve to know the full picture of anyone they are considering hiring, without wondering if they're taking unnecessary risks. And we all deserve to know we can trust these organizations and businesses completely, especially when it involves trusting them with our families' finances or our health. Michigan's laws should reflect that reality.

Restricting this kind of information is well intentioned. The people making the change want to protect the privacy of people who have committed crimes in the past. But their decision hurts public safety and hurts small businesses. It simply cannot be allowed to go into effect – the stakes are too high.

House Bill 5368, sponsored by state Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), fixes the problem. Rep. Filler's bill ensures that just enough information is included in public court documents to let the system work. However, the bill also follows the initial intention of the courts to protect public safety by ensuring information related to witnesses, victims and others involved in a court case is not accessible. This is a good compromise that keeps all of us safe, protects small businesses trying to do the right thing and secures private information.

Michigan’s small businesses need this legislation to prevent more costly and less accurate background checks. It is already hard enough in this era to find and keep workers on the job. Our small businesses don’t need one more hurdle to clear.

The Supreme Court’s goal of protecting privacy is commendable, but concealing judicial records makes it harder for struggling businesses to operate and puts vulnerable populations at risk. The Legislature and the governor must prevent this change from going into effect by approving Representative Filler’s legislation. Operating a business in these times is difficult enough. Small businesses need House Bill 5368 before this rule makes it even harder. 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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