National Employment Screening Services

Just because you are local, doesn’t mean your employment screening firm must be.  While local is always nice in terms of familiarity is concerned, capabilities are far more important.  Just because your local screening firm might screen a lot of people in your particular area, doesn’t mean they have the expertise, capacity or capability to conduct background checks for your applicant’s that may live or have lived outside of your area. 

One of the best practices in conducting an effective screening program is to check every county where you applicant has resided, worked or gone to school and every name they have used over the past seven years.  So, it is imperative to identify and select a provider who can cover the entire country.  It is also important to select a provider who has a basic sense of the federal, state and local laws that govern the use of background checks.  In most cases, the Fair Credit Reporting Act will pre-empt state of local laws, but not always.  So conducting a check in California for instance is completely different than conducting a check in Ohio.

In addition to client references, you might ask the following questions of a potential provider that seek to highlight experience in this regard:

  • Do you have a national client base?
  • Do you have national coverage? (duh?, sorry for the obvious one but you never know)
  • If you do have national coverage, do you regularly cover all areas of the country?
  • Please highlight some of the differences or challenges you run into in different areas or regions of the country (beware of the provider that tells you none).

Credit and Background Checks

Many companies utilize credit checks as part of their pre-employment screening programs.  While credit checks are often confusing, they can shed light on an applicant’s personal responsibility.  It is important for employers to bear in mind the following when contemplating this type of search.  First the basics, you must have a signed authorization from the applicant before you can check their credit.  Second, you want to make sure that credit is not the only thing that you look at to determine an applicant’s suitability for employment.  Other valuable pieces of a background check can include a criminal record search, employment verifications, education verifications, etc.  Next, you want to make sure that you evaluate how poor credit might affect your candidate’s ability to work in the position they seek.  Credit checks are great for executive level applicants, those in the financial sector or those and, or those with access to large amounts of money.  For others, the extension might not be so obvious. 

Next is understanding the different between an Employment Credit Report and a Consumer Credit Report.  There are many differences that require far greater explanation, but the for the purposes of this discussion let’s point out a couple of the highlights.  A Consumer Credit report contains a credit score (which cannot be used as part of the hiring decision) and account numbers (which an employer shouldn’t need to make a hiring decision).  Running them also counts against the applicant’s credit score, unlike the Employment Credit Report.  For simplification purposes, this makes the Employment Credit Report the preferable of the two. 

Lastly, there are three primary credit bureaus in the US.  They are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  Information can vary from bureau to bureau, but as far as determining the best, all three have their strengths and weaknesses.

Now comes the hard part.  Making employment decisions based on the results of a credit report.  And that my friends is something that can and should be dealt with on a unique employer by employer basis.

Background Checks and Job Offers

Okay, so you’ve made a smart decision and decided to integrate the use of background checks into your hiring process.  The question now is "at what point in the hiring process to I use this insightful tool"?  The answer is different for every organization.  For some organizations, the successful completion of a background check is the most influential part of the hiring decision, therefore the check is conducted at the beginning of the process.  For others, it is used as a helpful tool to choose between equally qualified candidates and thus conducted somewhere between the first interview and the actual job offer.  Some organizations will conduct it post offer and make the offer contingent upon the successful completion of the check.  And yet others, will also make the offer contingent upon the successful completion of the check, but put them on the job before executing.

All of the aforementioned options are permissible and when used effectively, greatly benefit the employer.  There are ramifications for each though.  For instance, if the check is conducted at the onset of the hiring process, the organization is probably screening many more candidates than it will actually hire.  The benefit is that rather than going completely through with the whole process, candidates can either move on or be eliminated right away.  On the other end of the spectrum, those who wait until someone is on the job run the risk of employing and potentially having to terminate a candidate after they have made it through the entire process.  The benefit of waiting is that they can breeze through the hiring process and get candidates on the job quickly.

At the end of the day, you have to make the best decision for your organization.  The important thing is that you actually conduct a thorough search that allow you to make an informed hiring decision.

Costs of Pre-Employment Background Checks

The most common question asked by potential customers is "what is the cost of doing a background check"?  The answer is never easy.  But let’s start with a few basics.  First and foremost, the price charged for a background check is most commonly attributed to anticipated or demonstrated volume and the types of services ordered.  Volume meaning the more background checks you order, the better the price.  Services ordered can vary.  Some clients just do a basic criminal check while others order criminal checks, employment verifications, etc. 

Now comes the more challenging part of the equation: the apples to apples comparison.  The most common differentiating factor in the nebulous term "background check" is how criminal convictions are sought: County Criminal Records, State Repositories (if and where available) and commercial databases.  The best method for obtaining thorough and accurate search is to conduct an in-person county criminal record search wherever your applicant has resided, worked or gone to school over at least the last seven years.  The county level is where the overwhelming majority of convictions that matter to employers occur and give you the best chance of finding information.  This method usually takes the most time (1-4 days on average) and is the most expensive method.  State repositories can be hit and miss for a number of reasons.  Most states cannot mandate that their county courts report information, how often they report it or what types of information they report.  Normal institution tells you that the larger the sampling size, the better chance you have of finding more.  Unfortunately, that intuition is based on the fallacy that the larger sampling size is just as thorough and accurate as the smaller one.  Lastly, there are commercial databases, the quickest and cheapest method for obtaining a criminal background check.  Also, the most unreliable (see article on national criminal database searches).  Commercial databases rely on various reporting agencies willingness to provide or sell data.  Such sources can include corrections facilities, some county courthouses, some state sponsored sites.  There can be as many holes in these databases as there are in swiss cheese.  Having said that, statewide and database searches can be a good compliment to the county search, just not a good primary method.

Having said all of that, the buyer needs to make the age old decision: time vs. quality (accuracy) vs. cost.  And there are other factors to be considered here: how much time, money and energy would be spent defending a negligence claim for not utilizing a proper screening tool?  How can I put a price tag on the negative publicity from one incident in the workplace?  These are questions only a buyer can answer, but when you think about the aforementioned factors you are armed with the tools you need to make an informed decision.  Kind of like the results of a background check.   

Executive Background Checks

It only stands to reason that employers think about ratcheting up background checks when it comes to screening potential executives.  The prevailing logic is "these positions pay a lot of money and I want to make sure that everything looks good".  You can’t argue with this institution.  Executives do make more money, they are hard to replace and even more difficult to find.  In addition to the cursory searches (Social Security Number Trace and County Criminal Records Check), employers should consider the following:  Federal Criminal Record Search– While a minuscule number of crimes are prosecuted at the federal level, they are mainly the types of convictions that would concern employers.  Many, but not all federal convictions are white collar in nature.  Employment Verifications– While important for many other positions, employment verifications are vital for executives.  It will help to confirm items such as starting and ending title, starting and ending salary, starting and ending position and responsibilities, etc.  Education Verifications– Confirms education degrees and we have all seen many public embarrassments based on fraudulent education credentials.  Professional License Verification– Confirm that your candidate is in fact a member of a state bar, a licensed medical practitioner, a CPA, etc.   

These are just some of the searches employers should consider when screening executive candidates.  A more specific list should be discussed based on the unique needs of an organization.  I guess the most important message here is that whatever you choose to do, make sure that you perform a thorough background check.  The risk for not doing so is just too great.

Database Searches Strike Again: Ask Home Depot

Home Depot Rescreens Workers Sent into Homes.  This story posted by WCVB in Boston chronicles another instance where an inexpensive database search ended up costing a national organization far more than they anticipated.  Bottom-line, whatever short cuts they were taking in the background screening process didn’t reveal that they were hiring a violent sex offender and placing him in people’s homes.  Thankfully, no one was hurt, but if Home Depot had to do it all over again I’m guessing they would have spent the money to do a proper background check rather than trying to rebuild its image in a major US city.

Responsible Decision for Social Networking Site

Say what you will about freedom of speech and right to privacy, but MySpace should be commended for finally making the right decision and turning records over to authorities of sex offenders they have caught and banned from their site.  Whether they did this because they felt it would make the world a safer place or because it would generate positive PR and make their users feel more comfortable is immaterial.  The information they turn over can help law enforcement protect all of us from sexual predators. 

A story that hits close to home!

Every so often I will blog on a story that hits close to home, this is one of those stories.  I hear it time and time again from temporary agencies, they don’t have the budget to justify spending money on  quality background checks.  I am not aware yet who the temporary agency is but…… ones reputation is difficult to re-invent.

Rape suspect at UH has criminal past

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Harlan Spector

Plain Dealer Reporter

A nurse’s aide charged with raping a patient in the
psychiatric unit of University Hospitals is a convicted
felon who hospital officials said should not have been
working there.

Herman Brown, 40, had been a temporary worker at the
hospital’s Hanna Pavilion since April. The temporary
agency that employed Brown was responsible for background
checks, a hospital official said.

Brown is charged with entering a 20-year-old
patient’s room while she slept and raping her the night
of May 11.

The hospital is investigating why the temporary agency
placed the worker at UH, said Rob Whitehouse, vice president
of communications.

A person who answered the agency phone number provided by
police declined to comment.

Brown, whose address is listed as West Avenue in
Cleveland, has a history of arrests on charges including
theft, forgery, aggravated burglary and drug abuse. He was
sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1996, court records
show.

In a subsequent probation violation, Brown was ordered not
to work at a nursing home.

More recently, he was convicted in January of drug abuse
in Bedford Municipal Court.

Brown is in jail on a $1 million bond after appearing in
court Thursday on the rape charge. University Circle police
are investigating.