Why Are So Many Drivers Having Trouble with Background Checks?

Over the past few months, we’ve heard from numerous drivers who were running into problems with the Uber background check. In some cases, new Uber drivers were experiencing issues getting approved, but for the most part, a lot of the issues we’ve been hearing about stem from the updated annual background checks that Uber is now running on existing drivers.

There’s never been much transparency with this process, and I’ve always disliked the fact that drivers have no idea when these checks are going to be run, what Uber is looking for and what the appeal process is, if the check turns up something that disqualifies you from driving.

You Can Fight Back If Your Background Check Is Inaccurate

If you think you’ve been deactivated or rejected as a rideshare driver due to an error in your background check, It’s important to remember that you are entitled to an accurate background check as part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Losing access to your ability to pay your bills as a result of such an error may entitle you to having your lost pay reimbursed. We recommend getting a free consultation and speaking with the Consumer Law Firm of Francis & Mailman, P.C.  in order to make  sure that you are fairly compensated.

Earlier in the year, we documented Jay’s experience getting accidentally deactivated from Uber for 6 weeks due to a simple clerical error. If a false positive can happen to a driver with 20,000 rides under his belt and a 4.9 star rating, it can happen to anyone.

Fortunately, Jay was able to drive for Lyft during that down time (and he actually hasn’t driven for Uber since), but it was a real PITA getting straight information from Uber and Checkr (the background check company).

What Does an Uber Driver Background Check Include?

New drivers are required to undergo an online name-based background check when they first apply for Uber or Lyft. Going forward, existing drivers are now subject to annual background checks. According to Uber’s Help Section, here are the Uber background check requirements:

  • In general, drivers must have a minimum of one year of licensed driving experience in the US (3 years if under 23 years old)
  • Motor Vehicle Record review
  • Criminal background check (will vary based on local laws and is based on criteria specified in local laws)
  • Uber’s internal safety standards (undescribed)

In addition, drivers may be disqualified for any of the following:

  • Major driving violations or recent history of minor driving violations
  • Convictions for felonies, violent crimes, sexual offenses or registered sexual offender status (among other types of criminal records)
  • Pending charges for the above categories
  • Any additional local/state laws that Uber must follow

There is a lot of ambiguity in the requirements above and that seems to stem from the fact that laws are different in every state and sometimes even differ by city. Uber does share an example though of their screening process in California that is helpful:

  • The screening is performed by Checkr and goes back seven years
  • Individuals who pass the driving history screen then undergo a national, state, and local-level criminal history check that screens a series of national, state, and local databases including the US Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website,* the PACER database, and several different databases used to identify suspected terrorists.
  • Upon identifying a potential criminal record, Checkr sends an individual to review the record in-person at the relevant courthouse or, if possible, pulls the record electronically. Verifying potential criminal records at the source—the courthouse records—helps ensure that they are checking the most up-to-date records.

image of Uber background check process in California
Uber background check process in California

Even though this chart was last updated in May of 2016, it’s actually the first time I’ve ever seen specific requirements laid out that say, for example, “no more than THREE minor violations in the past THREE years.”

It would be nice if Uber published this chart for every state or adopted the same policies across all states though so drivers would know exactly what will cause a failed background check, especially now that they’re running annual background checks.

Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have

What Else is Changing with Uber’s Background Checks?

As mentioned, Uber has always required background checks for new drivers, but it wasn’t until recently that they announced they were going to start running updated annual background checks.  This makes sense to me since if you commit a serious crime or get a DUI, Uber would never know about these infractions unless they were running updated background checks.

But, in that same announcement, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that Uber is also investing in ‘new offense notifications’:

Uber will go beyond annual reruns and be among the first to invest in technology that rapidly identifies new offenses. Using data sources that cover most new criminal offenses, we will receive notifications when a driver is involved and leverage this information to help continuously enforce our screening standards.

We will investigate and verify any potentially disqualifying information from public records, such as a new and pending charge for a DUI, to ensure the driver is still eligible to use Uber.

I haven’t seen a case where a driver was deactivated in real time after a DUI or similar type offense, but it sounds like this could be rolling out in the next year or two. As mentioned earlier, I’m okay with this, since drivers who get a DUI shouldn’t be driving for Uber, but what if that check turns up a false positive? How should drivers go about getting their record cleared?  That’s a whole ‘nother story!

An Example of a Driver Issue with Background Checks (Sara in Milwaukee)

We’ve spoken with dozens of drivers who have had issues with Uber’s updated background checks but wanted to highlight one specific story so you can learn from it and know what to look out for in case this happens to you.

Sara was an active part-time driver for Uber in Milwaukee until one day when she realized that an annual background check had been run without her consent and she had been deactivated!  Here’s the timeline of what happened:

7/23-7/24: Sara drove for UberX a couple days this week and did 15 total trips over two days and then took a few days off for personal reasons.

7/31: Attempted to go online and drive for UberX but could only go online with UberEATS.  Double checked to make sure none of her documents were expired. Also checked her e-mail and spam folder to make sure she hadn’t missed any important e-mails from Uber.

7/31: Called Uber phone support and the rep tells her that Checkr attempted to run a background check but the background check could not be completed since her driver’s license could not be verified. At this point, she is confused because she never received any communication that an updated background check was being run, much less that Checkr ran into a problem with it.

Uber support followed up with this message to her:

image of Uber's response to Sara about her deactivation
Uber’s response to Sara about her deactivation

After logging into the Checkr applicant portal, she sees that an updated background check was initiated on 7/19 without her permission and the results came in on 7/26.  So that’s why she was able to drive on 7/23-7/24, but since she didn’t try going online again until 7/31, 5 days went by where she was actually deactivated but didn’t even know it.

7/31: She uploads a photo of her driver’s license to Checkr as requested and is told it will take 5-7 days to review!

8/6: It’s been 7 days and she hasn’t heard back from Checkr or Uber so she goes into a local Uber hub and the rep gives her a phone number for Checkr.  The rep also tells her to let Checkr know she was calling in to verify that a submitted document had been received (her license) and ask that her report be run while she was on the phone.  Once she got off the phone with Checkr, she was active on Uber in just a few minutes.

Sara told me she had no problem with her background check being re-run but she was livid that she was never notified they needed an updated document. She had a 100% clean background check but, due to lack of communication by Uber and Checkr, she was unable to drive for 2 weeks and is now stuck catching up on bills.

Clerical Terror: Uber Background Check Denied

As it turns out, the issue was due to the fact that Sara had to renew her driver’s license in December 2017 and her local DMV prints out a sheet of paper that acts as proof of license until the real one arrives in the mail. So Sara submitted that temporary paper to Uber at the office and specifically asked if she needed to submit the ‘real’ one when it arrives and was told no.

Well, between then and the policy change to run annual checks, that answer turned into a yes, as that temporary copy was not valid for Checkr’s purposes. But again, Sara was never notified of that, otherwise she would have submitted a new license immediately.

We collected several other detailed accounts like this from drivers and here’s what stood out from talking to these drivers:

  • Drivers are not always being notified by Uber that an updated background check is being run.  This is a clear violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as mentioned below and Uber was already sued for this once, so I’d be surprised if Uber was making this mistake again. But multiple drivers reported that they did not consent to a background check within the past few months and one was ran anyways.
  • You can still drive for UberEATS even if you get temporarily deactivated from UberX pending a background check, and one driver even said that he was online for 16 hours over 2 days without getting a request, only to find out that he couldn’t drive because Uber was running a secondary background check.
  • Call Uber ASAP and/or go in person to an Uber Greenlight center if you are experiencing background check issues and don’t hesitate to call Checkr.  Their phone number is: 844-224-3257

Is Uber Allowed to Conduct Background Checks and Terminate Employment for Independent Contractors?

Last year, Uber settled a lawsuit over claims that it had violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act when obtaining consumer background check reports for prospective Uber drivers.

According to the lawsuit,

The plaintiffs allege Uber took adverse employment [action] against them based on information contained in background check reports. However, Uber failed to notify the plaintiffs about their intent to procure the background check, failed to obtain prior authorization from them before obtaining the background check information, and failed to provide required copies of the reports or a summary of their rights under FCRA before taking adverse employment action against them, according to the Uber class action lawsuit.

Uber denied the allegations and said that FCRA laws do not apply to people who work as “independent transportation providers” for Uber, but they did agree to settle the lawsuit to avoid the burden and expense of ongoing litigation.

So it sounds like Uber is allowed to terminate drivers for a failed background check BUT they need to notify drivers ahead of time, get their permission and then provide a copy of the background check to the driver if requested. But based on the drivers we’ve been talking to, this is not always happening.

Can drivers dispute the results of a background check?

According to Uber’s support website,

If you have received a background check you feel is inaccurate or incomplete, please contact Checkr, Uber’s third party background check provider, at the link below for direct support.

Please note that Checkr does not determine the standards used to evaluate eligibility to partner with Uber and is not involved in the partnership decision. Uber makes a decision based on the report that Checkr provides. Checkr can only assist with a dispute if you feel that information in your background check report is inaccurate or incomplete.

How Can Uber and Lyft Fix This Mess?

Almost all of the drivers we spoke with for this story had issues with their Uber background check but since Lyft also uses Checkr, it wouldn’t surprise me if Lyft drivers were experiencing similar problems.

Background checks are a sensitive topic and while this is is a complex problem, I think Uber is attacking it with a hammer when they need to understand that they are messing with driver’s livelihoods here.

The first thing that needs to be done is for Uber to publish an outline of what the process is for drivers when it comes to updated background checks (similar to their deactivation policy which was a great addition).  Too many drivers are getting deactivated over false positives and have no idea how to appeal, who to call or how to fix things.

The next thing that Uber should consider is the severity of the infraction.  At almost every step of the way in Sara’s story, someone from Uber or Checkr gave her bad information and she was basically deactivated through no fault of her own for a very minor clerical error.  I get being overcautious for DUIs or serious offenses, but different policies should apply for clerical errors.

Uber has been in the news a lot due to issues with their drivers, so it’s no surprise they’re investing in features like ‘new offense notifications’ to show the world that they care about passenger safety.  But a lot of good drivers seem to be getting caught in the crossfire and losing money, sleep and time because Uber wants to look like they’re now tough on background checks.

Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have

What do you think? Have you experienced any issues with Uber’s background check process?

Melissa Berry contributed to this article/research.

-Harry @ RSG