Background Screening – Why and How-To

If human capital is an organization’s greatest asset, then it can also be its greatest liability. Just ask the stockholders of Enron, investors in Tyco, or members of the Catholic Church.None of these institutional calamities occurred because of a natural disaster, political uprising or a radical change in technology. Instead, they are striking examples of how the individuals trusted to bring them to new heights, proved to be their downfall. Consider your own organization; what policies and procedures are in place to ensure your recruit-to-hire program is in fact building human capital assets? If background checks aren’t part of your process, consider:o The reported percentage of applicants that include false information on a resume varies by its source, but is well into the double digits
o There are hundreds of online sources that openly sell false diplomas, degrees and other educational certifications; or provide “Professional References” for a fee.
o On average, about 11% of the working population has a criminal record
o According to the Workplace Violence Research Institute, negligent hiring costs U.S. businesses in excess of $18 billion annually.A solid recruitment program that includes a well-balanced background check will help minimize turnover and liability exposure. If your background checking consists of a few calls to the names and numbers your applicant provided, you’re organization is under-informed and at risk. And as odd as it may seem, if you’re running a full range of searches on every final candidate, you may be creating liability rather than reducing it. Here are a few broad-stroke considerations.Do You Need a Background Check Policy? Tragic events, financial losses, and the litigious nature of our business climate have made background checks part of our employment culture. At this point, it’s only prudent to have a written background screening policy in place, with specifics that are adhered to in the hiring process.Who Do You Check? The best case scenario includes a check on all new hires, temps and contractors. This doesn’t mean your company has to absorb the cost of the entire campaign, however. It’s perfectly acceptable for employers to require temp agencies and other vendors they employ, to provide personnel that have been screened. Internally, if groups of employees or levels of employment are excluded, the value proposition of your policy is diminished and may lose some of its integrity. This will be highlighted for you in court, by counsel for the candidate or employee who feels they were damaged by your selective policy. It’s best to include all employees, and run background checks that are appropriate for the position.Most background check providers will create different search packages to address your requirements. However, if your policy includes different degrees of screening, it’s critical to keep your checks consistent within job categories or levels. Keep this in mind if promoting from within. If a candidate for an open position is a current employee, the background check that was conducted for his or her current role may not be sufficient. Be sure an updated background check is performed and meets the parameters of the new position. Many organizations are also adopting a policy to update the criminal background check as part of their employee review process. There is no need to re-confirm education or prior employment; but an update on the criminal record check is a prudent and pro-active step in maintaining an effective background screening program.What Searches Should Be Included? This rests with your judgment – although there are some guidelines that might assist. The background check should be relevant to the position and thorough, without being unreasonable. There isn’t much difficulty in deciding that a criminal history search should be done across the board – how else would you know if someone poses a danger to fellow employees and clients? Running a credit check on a machinist however, is probably unnecessary and may be viewed as being intrusive – creating liability where you are trying to minimize it. Confirming prior employment is applicable to all applicants, but an education verification probably isn’t necessary for someone hired to pick fruit. Find the balance for each position, and work with your background screening firm to develop the necessary search packages.The searches conducted as part of the background check will rely in part on information provided by the applicant or employee, but this should not be the sole source. Every check should include an Address History/Social Security Number Trace to confirm the applicant’s residence history, and the Criminal History search should then be based on those results. If the Address History report matches what the candidate provided, that’s great – if not, ask why. The Criminal History search should include, at a minimum, County Court searches (some states also refer to this as District Court) because it involves a researcher obtaining records directly from the source of the record – the court. Many screening firms offer “Statewide” or “Nationwide” criminal record searches, and while there is value in these searches, a few items should be pointed out. These are database searches, not court searches. The statewide databases frequently rely on Department of Corrections data (frequently no record if they weren’t incarcerated) or County convictions data, although not all counties participate. Even state-run CORI systems often are heavily filtered, sometimes to the point where a record for a convicted felon that served time won’t be identified. The value of these searches comes in their coverage of a large geographic area; and they are best used to augment County Court searches. The so-called “Nationwide” searches are truly misleading – they don’t include all states, so therefore can’t truthfully be called nationwide and they are subject to the same database shortcomings as the statewide criminal searches.Driver’s license records are important for positions such as sales, delivery, and any other position that will have an employee driving on company time. Professional licenses should be checked in any profession requiring licensure, and education verifications should be executed for positions requiring a diploma or degree. Regarding references, and please use yourself as the example; have you ever provided a future employer with the name of a reference that wouldn’t give a glowing summation? Dates of employment, title, salary, etc., can all be obtained from HR – to get a real feel for performance, you need to speak with a former supervisor or co-worker.As an HR professional, part of your role is to identify the skills and value that an individual brings to your organization. Of equal importance is your responsibility to create and maintain a safe, secure, and productive work environment. And while no single policy or procedure addresses these tasks completely, a comprehensive background screening program is one component that will help keep your human capital in the asset category.

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