California

Criminal background checks for California state workers snare 3 in tax department

The Employment Development Department.
The Employment Development Department. Sacramento Bee file photo, 2008

Two employees at a California tax department left their jobs after criminal background checks turned up old convictions, and one more longtime employee is in limbo while he and the state determine whether he is eligible for a new position.

The job changes follow the state’s implementation in 2018 of an IRS regulation requiring criminal background checks for contractors and public employees who have access to personal taxpayer information.

Some branches of California government were not affected by the rule because they have long required job candidates to undergo some sort of background check, such as the Franchise Tax Board, which handles personal income tax.

Others did not, including the department that collects business taxes and fees.

That department, called the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, beginning in 2018 directed its employees to submit their fingerprints for background checks.

Since then, one employee flagged by the background checks retired, one more left the department and a third is “pending further review,” said department spokeswoman Stacie Spector.

She said she could not disclose more information about personnel matters.

The spouse of the employee whose job is uncertain has been contacting a number of state government and union leaders to question his status. The Sacramento Bee is not naming the employee at the family’s request because their relatives are unaware of two felony convictions that are on the state employee’s record and predate his employment at the tax department.

His spouse in emails to state officials describes her husband as a nine-year state employee who was blindsided by the outcome of the background check. She wrote in the messages that they have received a number of vague letters from the department that “don’t make much sense.”

“It’s really starting to take its toll on our family,” she wrote.

Beginning in 2017, unions representing state employees started working with departments to move employees who could be affected by the background checks to different positions.

“People have poor judgment or they make bad decisions and then make amends. It shouldn’t come to a point where they lose their bloody job over it,” Steve Crouch, director of public employees for the state maintenance union, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39, said at the time.

The state estimated “dozens” of people were reassigned to new positions because of those agreements.

Since then, officials from the California Department of Human Resources, Service Employees International Union Local 1000 and International Union of Operating Engineers said they were unaware of employees losing their jobs because of new background checks.

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