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In an ever-evolving financial landscape, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last year proposed a new rule for regulating and monitoring the activities of investment advisors and private fund managers. The reforms, which are pending, are designed to protect private fund investors by increasing their visibility into certain practices, establishing requirements to address practices that have the potential to lead to investor harm, and prohibiting adviser activity that is contrary to the public interest and protection of investors.

The rule aims to impose stricter requirements on private fund advisors, including more comprehensive reporting and disclosure mandates, risk management measures, and operational safeguards. Although not mentioned specifically, it can easily be inferred that background screening will play an integral part in complying with the rule.

Background screening serves as an essential risk management tool that allows investment firms and the SEC to assess the integrity and competence of individuals seeking to become private fund advisors. By conducting thorough background checks, potential red flags can be identified early on, ensuring that only qualified and trustworthy professionals are entrusted with managing private funds. The following are some key reasons why background screening is relevant to the SEC’s proposed rule:

  • Investor Protection – Private fund advisors hold significant influence over their clients’ investment decisions and assets. Background screening helps identify any past misconduct or disciplinary actions, safeguarding investors from potential fraudulent schemes or unethical practices.
  • Regulatory Compliance – The rule demands increased compliance from private fund advisors. Implementing stringent background screening procedures will facilitate adherence to these regulations and ensure the eligibility of those operating within the private fund industry.
  • Market Integrity – A robust background screening process strengthens market integrity by weeding out bad actors who could potentially tarnish the reputation of the private fund industry. This fosters trust among investors and stakeholders, promoting a healthy and sustainable financial ecosystem.
  • Risk Mitigation – Background screening helps mitigate operational risks associated with hiring individuals with questionable backgrounds. Identifying potential risks early can prevent potential legal and financial liabilities that may arise due to non-compliance or misconduct.
  • Risk Management – For private fund advisors, maintaining a positive reputation is critical for attracting new investors and retaining existing clients. Background screening assists in upholding a firm’s reputation by ensuring the integrity of its team members.
  • Consistency with Other Industries – Background screening is a standard practice in many sectors of the financial industry, such as banking and accounting, and extending background screening to private fund advisors aligns this sector of the financial industry with prevailing best practices in risk management and compliance.

As the SEC finalizes its proposed rule, it is essential for private fund advisors to adopt background screening as a proactive measure that not only aligns with regulatory expectations but also contributes to their reputation as responsible and reliable investment professionals. In doing so, the private fund industry can continue to thrive and attract investors with the assurance of a well-regulated and trustworthy financial environment.

Most are familiar with the two-step process for employment background check reports required by the New York City Fair Chance Act (FCA). The first step is performing searches of all relevant records, excluding all records disclosing criminal history information.

State courts often have some quirky procedures, and the New York Supreme Court is no exception. Civil records from the New York Supreme Court typically include a reference to an “RJI” and whether it has been filed. What does “RJI” mean?

Definition: RJI is an abbreviation for “Request for Judicial Intervention.” It’s a form that is filed by either a plaintiff or defendant sometime after the summons and complaint is served on the defendant in a civil case.

Filing Effect: When an RJI is filed, the civil case is assigned to a judge.

What does this mean? When a plaintiff files a complaint in the New York Supreme Court to start a civil case, the court’s only action is to assign the case an index number. The court will not take any other action regarding the case – such as deciding a motion or order to show cause or hold a conference or trial – until either the plaintiff or defendant files an RJI. When the RJI is filed, the case is assigned randomly to a judge who will decide everything in the case until it is over.

How long will a case stay in the pre-RJI status? Because New York law does not specify a time limit for pre-RJI status, a civil case could be pending for years without any activity showing on the publicly available docket other than the filing and service of the summons and complaint.

That is the quirk in the New York Supreme Court civil case procedures – the possibility of a lengthy period of no case activity during the pre-RJI status.

To ensure that a civil case is timely prosecuted, many state courts assign a judge to a civil case when the summons and complaint are filed.

Almost everyone has heard the terms DWI and DUI, and many think that both are interchangeable. New York law uses a third term – DWAI. None of these terms are interchangeable, and New York law does not use the term DUI or driving under the influence.

In New York, there are two main “drunk driving offenses” – DWI and DWAI. DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated,” while DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired.” A DWI means that the driver is legally intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 percent. A DWAI involving alcohol means the driver’s blood alcohol content is between 0.05 and 0.07 percent.

Although the penalties for a New York DWI and DWAI are nearly the same, there is a big difference between them regarding the offense level. A DWI conviction is a criminal offense, while a DWAI conviction is a violation – which in New York is a non-criminal offense.

The practical effect of this distinction is that a DWAI conviction will appear on a New York driving record (usually stated as “driving while impaired”), but the court conviction will not appear on a New York Statewide CHRS report because these reports do not include non-criminal offenses such as violations.

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.

On January 10, 2021, the New York City Council passed an amendment (Local Law 4) to the city’s Fair Chance Act (FCA) which significantly expands protections for job applicants and employees. The amendment goes into effect July 28, 2021. Below are highlights of Local Law 4:

  • Expands scope of “criminal history” to include pending arrests and other criminal accusations.
    The FCA process must be used to determine if a pending arrest or other “criminal accusation” may be the basis to rescind a conditional job offer. Such rescission may only occur if, after considering the relevant fair chance factors “the employer determines that either (i) there is a direct relationship between the alleged wrongdoing that is the subject of the pending arrest or criminal accusation and the employment sought or held by the person; or (ii) the granting or continuation of the employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public.”
  • Adds new factors to the individual assessment for pending arrests or criminal charges, or convictions that occur during employment.
    Employers will have to consider the following factors, in lieu of the Article 23-A analysis:
  • The New York City policy “to overcome stigma toward and unnecessary exclusion of persons with criminal justice involvement in the areas of licensure and employment”;
  • the specific duties and responsibilities “necessarily related” to the job;
  • the bearing, if any, of the criminal offense or offenses for which the applicant or employee was convicted, or that are alleged in the case of pending arrests or criminal accusations, on the applicant’s or employee’s fitness or ability to perform one or more such duties or responsibilities;
  • whether the employee or applicant was 25 years of age or younger at the time the criminal offense(s) for which the person was convicted occurred, or that are alleged in the case of pending arrests or criminal accusations;
  • the seriousness of such offense(s);
  • the employer’s “legitimate interest” in “protecting property, and the safety and welfare of specific individuals or the general public”; and
  • any additional information produced by the applicant or employee, or produced on their behalf, regarding their rehabilitation or good conduct, including history of positive performance and conduct on the job or in the community, or any other evidence of good conduct.
  • Prohibits inquiries about specified criminal matters.
    At no time may an employer take an adverse action against an applicant or employee based on that person’s (i) violations; (ii) non-criminal offenses; (iii) non-pending arrests or criminal accusations; (iv) adjournments in contemplation of dismissal; (v) youthful offender adjudications; or (vi) sealed offenses, if disclosure of such matters would violate the New York State Human Rights Law.
  • Requires employers to solicit from the candidate information related to the FCA process.
    Currently, the FCA requires employers to only solicit evidence of rehabilitation and good conduct.
  • Expands the time for candidates to respond to the employer’s writtenassessment from three to five days.
  • Codifies guidance from the New York City Commission on Human Rights on revoking a conditional offer of employment.
    Employers may only revoke the conditional offer based on (i) the findings of a criminal background check following an individual assessment conducted pursuant to the FCA process, (ii) the results of a medical examination, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act; or (iii) other information obtained by the employer after making the conditional offer, if the employer could not be reasonably expected to have that information prior to making the offer and the employer would not have made the offer if it had possessed such information.
  • Requires production of evidence to the applicant or employee where the employer takes adverse action pursuant to an alleged misrepresentation by the applicant or employee.
    Under the existing FCA, an employer may take adverse action against candidates who intentionally misrepresent information to the employer. The Law will continue to allow an employer to take such action, but will require the employer to provide to the candidate the documents or other materials that support the employer’s claim of misrepresentation and permit the individual a “reasonable” amount of time to respond prior to taking the adverse action.

One of the hottest trends in employment in recent years has been the passage of “ban-the-box” and salary inquiry prohibitions in states and cities across the country.

Limitations on salary inquiry have popped up in recent years as part of the legislative fight against wage discrimination and the gender pay gap. Proponents of such prohibitions argue that salary history questions feed into the discrepancy between what male and female employees are paid by continuously repeating history.

Currently, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon and Puerto Rico have banned inquiries about prior salary, as have cities including New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia, with dozens of other states and local governments considering such measures.

The colloquial term “ban-the-box” refers to a box that applicants check to indicate they have a criminal record on standardized application forms. About 20 states and more than 150 local entities have already enacted legislation addressing inquiries into criminal history. The trend even went federal in 2015 with the Fair Chance Act introduced in Congress. Although the measure did not pass, it demonstrated the popularity of the movement.

The proposed federal legislation also shined a light on the situation facing multistate employers, with different laws in different states and in some situations, different laws in different cities or municipalities within the same state. One law may contain an outright ban on inquiries into salary or criminal history while another may place restrictions on the timing of the questions. Some laws define covered employers to include businesses with five or more employees; another may not apply its limitations to employers with less than 50 workers.

As an example, although the state already limited employers’ ability to ask job applicants about any juvenile court matters, the California legislature broadened its ban-the-box protections for employees with a new law in 2017. Employers in the state are restricted from making hiring decisions based on an applicant’s convictions records and forbidden from considering conviction history until a conditional offer of employment has been extended.

If an employer elects not to hire an applicant because of a prior conviction, the employer is required to conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether the history has a “direct and adverse relationship” with the job duties that justifies denial of the position. Written notice must be provided to an applicant that his/her conviction history has disqualified the applicant from employment, along with five days to respond and dispute the decision. A second notice must be provided with the final decision not to hire.

In contrast, Vermont’s ban-the-box measure takes a different approach, allowing employers to question applicants about their criminal records during the job interview, albeit providing an applicant with the opportunity to explain their record. And under New York City’s law, an employer commits a per se violation of the statute by using recruiting materials of any kind (including advertisements, solicitations or applications) that express, directly or indirectly, any limitation or specification regarding criminal history.

While the overarching principle remains consistent, the details of the laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For multi-state employers, coping with such a patchwork of legal requirements poses a serious challenge.

As the number of state and local jurisdictions with laws addressing salary inquiries or criminal history continues to expand, multi-state employers should brace themselves for a giant compliance puzzle – and consider getting help from an expert.