Time to Evaluate Your Applicant Release (Background Check Consent Form)?

I’ve recently realized that over the past several years we’ve spent a lot of time discussing and analyzing the latest background screening trends and stories of the day.  We’ve kind of gotten away from the basics and so I thought we could dedicate some time to freshening up some of the old issues in a way that applies to today’s human resource environment.

We just published an article entitled “Applicant Release Form (Consumer Authorization): Back to Basics Series” on EmployeeScreen University and encourage you to read it.  See excerpt below.

It might seem like a no-brainer these days that employers are mandated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to obtain an applicant’s written consent to conduct an employment background check.  And by and large we find that most employers are aware of this.  But have you taken a look at your release lately and wondered if the form that was created for you 10 years ago is still working for your organization?

Defining the Scope

The applicant release is designed to notify your candidate that you and, or your background screening provider will be performing a background check to determine if they are eligible for hire.  The release should include the scope of the search.  Most companies opt for a more generic scope, while others will specifically detail exactly what will be searched.  An example of a generic scope would be the following:

You may be the subject of a “consumer report” and/or an “investigative consumer report” which may include information about your character, general reputation, personal characteristics, driving record, and/or mode of living, and which can involve personal interviews with sources such as your current and past employers, friends, or associates.

Now, upon consent you as the employer may not choose to exercise your right to request all of the information detailed above, but the fact that you have included it allows you to do so if you deem it appropriate or germane to the candidate.

Other companies choose to include specific language about what will be checked which is fine, however unless they modify the language, the scope of their search should never include other information.

What if I want to Re-Screen the Candidate or Conduct Another Check Throughout Their Employment?

If you want to avail yourself of this option, and most companies do, you must include it in the applicant release.  Otherwise, you’ll have to get a new consent form each time you want to run a background check.  This can be pretty awkward with existing employees, particularly if you want to conduct the check because you have reason to believe there might be some adverse information out there.  An example of language that allows for this is below.  Once you have the authorization signed, just rinse, lather and repeat.

These reports may be obtained at any time after receipt of your authorization and, if you are hired, throughout your employment.

Notifying Applicants of Their Rights

Of course protecting ourselves by protecting our applicants is in everyone’s best interest.  A good release will ask the candidate to acknowledge that they have received a notice that a background check will be conducted (aka the release you are asking them to sign).  And if you plan to utilize employment and, or education verifications and, or reference interviews (these services are part of what is referred to as an “Investigative Consumer Report”), you should also provide them with a copy of a document called “A Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA” and have them acknowledge receipt as part of your release.  Even if you do not choose to conduct an Investigative Consumer Report, it might make sense to include the language and give them the notice, just in case your policies ever change.  Again, this will save you from having to obtain a new release if you choose to utilize these services at a later date and time.

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How That Twitter or Facebook Update Can Cost You Big Time

Bankrate.com has published a great article entitled “3 Dangers of Social Networking” where they highlight three key areas that the information you post on sites such as Facebook and Twitter can cause problems.

  • Employment
  • Debt Collection
  • Scams

    Since we most frequently focus on employment, I’ve included that section below.  But, check out the article when you get a chance.  There’s a lot of good advice in here.


    Andy Beal, CEO of the social media monitoring platform Trackur.com, says jobseekers should assume potential employers will do a Google search of candidates’ names. Social media profiles typically appear near the top of the search page.

    If you have questionable pictures or posts on a public profile, take them down or make the profile private to avoid trouble.

    Also, steer clear of negative talk about a prospective employer on any social media platform, Beal says. Many companies monitor mentions of their brand throughout the Web, he says.

    He cites the case of a Twitter user who posted about a new job offer from Cisco, but expressed doubt about “the daily commute” and “hating the work.” A Cisco employee noticed the tweet and demanded to know the name of the user’s hiring manager.

    Even employees who think their jobs are safe can sabotage themselves by being too honest online about their personal lives, or by posting feelings regarding a boss, client, co-worker or company for whom they work.

    “We’ve seen a lot of cases of people publishing status updates that have gotten them in trouble,” says Justin Smith, founder and editor in chief of Inside Facebook. “People have said things that have caused problems with their boss because of what they said about their work or because they’ve shared some other kind of private information about work online.”

    Caroline McCarthy, a staff writer at CNET News, says the best defense against such mistakes is to use plain old common sense. Remember, anything that appears on the Web is just a screenshot away from spreading quickly, despite the best efforts of social media users to keep it private.

    Ex-Convicts in District Flock to Apply for Census Jobs

    Will they even run background checks? No comment on this story, discuss amongst yourselves!

    PH2010012804126Ex-Convicts in District Flock to Apply for Census Jobs

    The word had spread, in churches and parole offices and halfway houses. The federal government is hiring for the 2010 Census, and tests for applicants were being given in a District neighborhood where unemployment is rampant.

    Hundreds of men and women began lining up on the sidewalks outside Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington two hours before the doors opened one day last week. Most have criminal records involving drugs, stolen cars, burglary and the like. But they’d been told that the census would consider hiring them anyway, if not as census takers then as clerks.

    Most of those bundled against the chill of a January morning were in their 40s and 50s. They said they just want to find work and get on with their lives. Some have been out of prison and job-hunting for years, some for months. All are familiar with the change in an interviewer’s eyes when they acknowledge that they have a record, and they leave knowing a follow-up call will never come.

    “Imagine being 51 years old, with no marketable skills, an ex-felon and you’re black, and trying to get a job,” John Murphy said as he waited to take a census test. A barber before his 1999 burglary conviction, Murphy has secured only menial jobs since getting out of prison in 2006.


    You Lie, You Pay. Don’t Fudge your Resume!

    I really didn’t mean for this title to rhyme, sorry!   Two great articles caught my attention this morning on resume lies!  One will really make job seekers sweat because in the end the employee had to pay wages back to his employer.  The other captures the essence of one of my favorite books; Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt.  The themes in both are the same, a lot of people lie on their resumes, many get caught and the penalty could be huge.  Here is a wake-up call folks, a thorough background check is going to be done and your misdeeds will be uncovered!

    Resume LiesFirst we have a “Doctor” who misrepresented himself to have not only a PhD but also a BSc and MSc. Are you kidding me? Didn’t he read our white paper on diploma mills and resume lies? Insead of lying at least he could have done a better job and bought a fake degree on the internet!!

    “Doctor” Richard Clark applied to join Coopers Lybrand’s consulting practice in Ottawa to head its management section. Coopers required professionals to have university degrees. In a resume provided to the firm and later sent out to potential clients, Clark purported to hold a BSc, MSc and PhD.

    Two years later, Coopers Lybrand learned he held none of these degrees and immediately fired him. He sued for wrongful dismissal. Not only did he lose the case, which proceeded to the Ontario Court of Appeal, but he had to reimburse the firm $47,000 for lost work when clients discovered Clark was not who he said he was.


    The second story kicks off with another war story.  Again, her employer began to do a bit of due-diligence and found out she had lied on her resume.

    resume-ss-250-2_crop380wWhen a woman we’ll call Mary was offered a high-level student-services position at a prestigious college, she was thrilled to accept. But two years later, Mary was fired despite strong performance reviews and a reputation as a rising star at the college. The reason? She lied on her resume – and got caught.

    An HR initiative requiring employees to furnish college transcripts revealed Mary lied about having a master’s degree. It wasn’t the lack of a degree that cost Mary her job; it was her dishonesty. Unemployed and with a blown reference to boot, Mary demonstrates what can happen when you lie on your resume.

    In this article they use a lot of refernces to the book Freakonomics.  In it Levitt talks about how widespread resume lies are.  Levitt also refers to the W.C. Fields quote “Anything worth winning is worth cheating for.”

    His examples and correlations couldn’t be more accurate.  In fact, as you will see below, his hypothesis on how many people lie is pretty accurate.  Maybe Steven Levitt has read our various studies on how many people lie on their resumes!

    “The best lies will be those that mirror reality,” Levitt says. “My hunch is that the reputed 50 percent of resume cheaters are mostly making little cheats here and there, for instance, to cover up times when they were out of the labor force for six months.”

    Perhaps viewing these mistruths as harmless white lies or marketing spin, people who lie on a resume may end up doing more damage – to themselves and others – than they realize.

    “When someone else cheats, it hurts the honest people,” Levitt says. Honest job seekers can be edged out of competition by individuals who give themselves an unfair advantage by fabricating or exaggerating credentials.

    And what about the damage cheaters do to themselves? “Even if you are never caught, you will have to live in constant fear that someday you will be caught and punished and with the guilt of knowing what you did was wrong,” Levitt warns.


    New Challenges with Canadian Criminal Background Checks

    Last month, we told you that the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) search had been temporarily suspended to all third parties, including employers and background screeners.  For those conducting background checks in Canada, this search was supposed to have been the gold standard in criminal searches.  Why?  Because it includes records from the entire country and is deemed to be the most thorough and reliable search available.

    The problem is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are concerned that the identifiers on record, name and date of birth are not enough to conclude that a criminal record belongs to an individual.  I would suggest that those two identifiers are exactly what is needed to confirm that a record belongs to an individual as long as the subject of the search has the ability to dispute the results.

    I found the most concise article I have seen on the revisions to the CPIC policies written by Dan Michaluk and I encourage you to check it out if you conduct background checks in Canada.  Here’s the most insightful information I found in the article as it applied to employers.

    Response to basic searches highly qualified

    The RCMP direction on information provided in response to searches based on name and date of birth only – so called “Criminal Name Index/Criminal Record Synopsis” searches – dictates what agencies can say in response to a request. If, for example, a name and date of birth search does produce a match, the RCMP has directed agencies to respond as follows:

    Based solely on the name(s) and date of birth provided, a search of the National Criminal Records repository maintained by the RCMP could not be completed. In order to complete the request, the applicant is required to have fingerprints submitted to the National Criminal Records repository by an authorized police service or accredited private fingerprinting company. Positive identification that a criminal record may or may not exist at the National Criminal Records repository can only be confirmed by fingerprint comparison. Not all offences are reported to the National Criminal Records repository. A local indices check may or may not reveal criminal record convictions that have not been reported to the National Criminal Records repository.

    The RCMP says this qualified statement is necessary in order to ensure accurate identification of individuals with criminal records. While understandable, there is currently no expeditious process for verifying a criminal record. The RCMP says its current verification process can take more than 120 days to complete when a criminal record is encountered. Individuals must attend at a local police station or certified fingerprinting agency to start the verification process, but results can be delivered directly to employers.

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    As you can see, these new policies make it extremely difficult for employers to conduct a background check through this system.  It’s great for determining if someone does not have a criminal record, but when they do, confirming the record is extremely challenging and time-consuming.  One of two things is going to happen.  Employers will stop using this resource and go back to searching by province or they’ll continue to use the search and not hire individuals when they find that the individual has a possible record.  Both scenarios come with their own perils.

    Great Resource for Exposing Diploma Mills

    Our good friends from the UK, Verifile Ltd are clearly the international authority on all things related to diploma mills.  EmployeeScreenIQ has been working hand in hand with them to highlight the problem and give employers the tools they need to ensure that their job applicants are not misrepresenting their educational background.  They have exposed more than 3,000 fraudulent institutions across the world and are adding new ones every day.

    They just released a product called Accredibase, which is a global database of unaccredited education institutions and unrecognized accrediting agencies, as a commercial product. We invite you to check it out.  They have also published a report designed to give an insight into the operation of diploma mills, the risks they pose and their global reach, and to propose solutions for tackling this important issue.  This report can be downloaded at www.accredibase.com/report

    A Career Chiller


    A nice article about background checks that include credit reports from the Winston-Salem Journal.

    Keeping a clean credit record may not be the only reason why consumers should not fall behind on paying bills.

    With a high jobless rate projected for the Triad for most of this year, it also could make the difference in whether one lands or is rejected for a good job.

    According to federal agencies and employment officials, more employers are reviewing the credit background of job applicants‘, along with doing criminal, drug and employment checks, as research technology becomes more available and less expensive.

    Which means that having a dinged credit record may be as burdensome to overcome as an employment gap on a resume.

    “The practice has become even more popular during the recession, as employers attempt to thin out the flood of applicants each job posting brings,” said John Challenger, the chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago consulting company.

    Other employment officials said that a suspect credit report could be the final factor in employers choosing between otherwise equally qualified candidates.

    “Although it may keep them from obtaining a particular job, they may not necessarily know the reason for rejection,” said Archie Hicks, the manger of the N.C. Employment Security Commission’s office in Winston-Salem. “Employers are very circumspect about giving reasons for not hiring.”

    There is some debate about exactly what employers are looking at with applicants’ credit backgrounds.


    Congressman Wants Census to Hire No Criminals

    Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) does not want the Census Bureau to hire anyone with a criminal record.  “Allowing individuals with criminal records to be enumerators, who go out into the public and walk up to people’s homes and knock on doors, can have serious detrimental effects on the American people’s confidence in the census,” Chaffetz said.

    Rep. Jason Chaffetz Wants Census to Hire No Criminals

    And while I applaud his efforts to protect our nation’s citizens, his proposal will get the undivided attention of the EEOC who is aggressively pursuing employers that impose what they believe are discriminatory hiring practices on job applicants.  They also are trying to curb criminal recidivism to get former convicts back to work so that they won’t turn back to crime.  Their argument is that when conducting employment background checks employers need to look at the crime to determine job relatedness.  They also need to consider other factors such as severity, how long ago it took place, whether the person is a repeat offender, etc.

    In my opinion, there are certainly going to be some crimes that the Census Bureau should have a zero tolerance policy on.  There will be others that really won’t amount to much.  Take for instance check fraud in the state of Texas.  Sounds like a pretty serious crime, right?  In actuality, a person is charged with check fraud if they bounce a check for greater than $5.00.  Oftentimes, the individual never knows that they have been prosecuted for the offense and the only thing they need to do to have it taken care of is to make good on the amount of the bounced funds.  Now, in other places, check fraud is a very serious offense.  There are many more instances of convictions like this and it wouldn’t really be practical/fair to reject candidates such as these.

    Workplace Violence Experts Interactive Roundtable: Sign Up Now


    Sign up now

    A quick reminder that today, EmployeeScreenIQ is hosting an Interactive Workplace Violence Roundtable to discuss this growing problem and what companies need to know and what they can do to be part of the solution.  Register for Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. PT) today!

    The special guest panel will include:
    •    Kim Wells, Executive Director, Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence
    •    Mark A. Lies II, Partner, Seyfarth Shaw Law Firm
    •    Dennis Butler, SPHR, Owner/Consultant, Crossings HR Solutions, LLC (Former Vice President, Workplace Solutions Liz Claiborne, Inc.)
    •    W. Barry Nixon, SPHR, President, PreemploymentDirectory.com
    •    Bernard S. Dyme, President & CEO, Perspectives Ltd

    The topics will include:
    •    The roots of workplace violence
    •    Why workplace violence has been on the rise
    •    Programs employers can implement to better assess and combat workplace violence
    •    Liability and litigation stemming from workplace violence incidents

    Please join EmployeeScreenIQ and register for Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. PT).

    You can also download your free copy of “Violence in the Workplace” by clicking here.

    New York Enforcing Laws to Put Convicts Back to Work

    Last year, the state of New York amended their general business laws to force businesses to consider certain factors in their hiring decisions when their job applicants had criminal conviction records.  (New York State Correction Law Article 23-A, Section 753 “Licensure and Employment of Persons Previously Convicted of One or More Criminal Offenses”.) The law was aimed to help former convicts get jobs.  To comply, businesses that conduct background checks have to follow guidelines set forth in Article 23-A before taking adverse action.  The guidelines focus on the seriousness or severity of crimes, job relatedness of the criminal activity, how old the record was, if the person was a repeat offender, etc.

    All has been pretty quiet since the law was enacted . . . until now.  Check out this editorial we found in today’s New York Times.  Clearly, they are prepared to begin enforcement.  If you are interested in learning more about Article 23-A, check out our podcast with Seyfarth Shaw’s, Pam Devata.

    Denied A Chance for Honest Employment

    Among the leading causes of recidivism are employment policies in the private and public sectors that discriminate against former offenders and too often drive them back to jail. New York State first addressed this problem more than 30 years ago with laws protecting the employment rights of people with criminal convictions. But two investigations by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suggest that some companies are finding ways around these laws.

    Employers in New York can, of course, review an applicant’s history. But they cannot deny an applicant a job on the basis of a conviction without considering whether the offense bears a relationship to the job being sought. New York law also forbids employers from shutting out qualified applicants because of convictions that are sealed or dismissed, minor infractions like speeding tickets or for arrests that do not lead to conviction.

    In a recently completed investigation, the attorney general found that ChoicePoint, a nationally known employee screening company, was involved in creating an online job application system for employers that automatically disqualified thousands of applicants who disclosed criminal convictions. Moreover, investigators found that the company had recommended to employers that they disqualify applicants based on sealed or dismissed convictions and legal outcomes that are regarded as violations — not crimes ?? under New York law. One ChoicePoint client violated state law by withdrawing conditional job offers after information that should not have been taken into account turned up in background checks.

    In a separate investigation, the attorney general found that RadioShack also had ignored the law by rejecting job applicants whose violations had been sealed, set aside or deemed to be minor. Both companies have agreed to pay financial penalties and to obey the law, without admitting or denying wrongdoing. But the cases raise the disturbing possibility that the practices they engaged in may be more widespread than supposed in a state that has been a national model in giving former prisoners a chance at honest work.

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