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Personal Background Checks


Last month we posted about an investigative report aired on the Today Show about assisted living facility employees who were not required by law to undergo employment background checks that had abused or stolen from those they were charged with caring.  I just read a similar story out of New York, except this time, the focus was on home health care workers neglecting and sexually assaulting elderly patients.

On Thursday an employee of the Cambridge Guest Home was arrested and charged with 31 counts of Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person after police say residents pulled the fire alarm because they could not locate her. Firefighters later found the woman sound asleep in a locked room of the home. According to police the employee, Kelly Hirayama-Watkins, also had previous problems with the law that include drug possession and a DWI arrest. Earlier in the year an employee at the Loudonville Home for Adults was found guilty of having inappropriate contact with a 91 year-old resident. The employee was a registered level- 3 sex offender. Currently there is no law requiring adult homes, such as the ones in Loudonville and Cambridge, to do background checks on the employees they hire.

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This is truly shameful and wholly avoidable.  In both of these cases, a criminal background check would have highlighted past indiscretions that should have given the employer pause before putting their clients in harm’s way. And while I believe that most employers in the healthcare industry have the good sense to conduct comprehensive background checks (in fact many are mandated to do so by law), then perhaps it’s time for regulation to require this.

Generally, I’m not a big fan of regulation, but in this instance, I don’t see a difference between requiring a school to conduct background checks and requiring them of those who care for elderly patients.  The key difference though is that the government should look at the holes in the states’ and federal government’s inability to provide a comprehensive background check and instead rely on reputable background screening companies to do the heavy lifting.

We’ve worked with a number of companies in the home health care industry (check out our case study with Hospice Compassus) over the years and have some recommendations for  those in that space:

    • Perform a comprehensive criminal background check in all counties where your job candidate has lived under each name they’ve used.
    • Make sure that your background screening provider searches both upper and lower courts and goes back as far as federal and state laws allow.
    • Conduct a National Criminal Database search to identify any potential criminal activity which has taken place outside of the counties you are searching.
    • Conduct a Sex Offender Registry Check
    • Contact past employers to ensure your job candidate has been truthful about their experience

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In these days of rampant identity theft people are pretty skeptical about giving out any personally identifiable information (PII).   So you can only imagine how skittish they might be about sharing the holy grail of PII (name, social security number, date of birth and address) with a total stranger.  Now, throw in your complete medical history.  Wouldn’t you expect that the people who are paid to collect that information would be subject to a comprehensive employment background check by their company before they were granted access to such data?

What if I told you that there was a company that employed thousands of people that collected this information but didn’t think it was necessary to conduct background checks?  You might think twice about giving them that information. Most likely, if you knew that they weren’t properly screened, you would just move on to the next company.


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There have been no shortage of stories that chronicle the need to conduct employment background checks on those caring for children such as teachers, day care, camp counselors, bus drivers, etc. or for those with disabilities that can’t take care of themselves. There is however, another vulnerable population that  is often looked- Senior Citizens.

We all have aging parents and grandparents.  And some of us are getting older a lot quicker than we’d like. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that we can rest easier knowing that we’ll be taken care of by experienced, qualified and honest people. We’ve all heard stories about seniors being abused, neglected or bilked out of their savings, so why isn’t there a mandate that those that care for them be properly screened before they can be hired?

NBC Today Show investigative reporter Jeff Rossen wondered this very same question after he learned about a woman in Mississippi who worked at an assisted living home and stole over $100,000 from 83 residents’ trust funds and spent it on various shopping sprees.

“In (a) three-month period there were 12 or 15 cash withdrawals,” Phyllis Foster said of her mother-in-law’s account. “And we knew that there was something drastically wrong.”

In August, Martin pleaded guilty to 29 counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person and one count of conspiracy. She is accused of stealing more than $100,000 from 83 residents’ trust funds and going on shopping sprees at stores like J.C. Penney, Gap, Walmart and American Eagle. In one instance, Martin bought a pair of designer jeans and expensed them to an elderly resident with no legs.

USA TODAY investigation into thefts from nursing home trust funds found that more than 100 cases like Martin’s have been prosecuted since 2010.

“What we found was that it is just enormously easy for people to get away with this, even in really good nursing homes,” USA TODAY investigative reporter Peter Eisler told TODAY.

“In most states there are no audit requirements. The people who do the nursing home inspections really aren’t looking close at the books for these trust funds.”


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Accurate Employment Background Checks

After months of searching, you finally found the perfect candidate for your (insert job here) role. This guy or gal has everything you’re looking for: great experience, sterling references, and a personality that fits well within your organization. Let’s face it: they are the bee’s knees.

Now, the only thing that has stopped you from making an offer is waiting for you on your desk—the background check results. You furiously scan the document to make sure there are no red flags: verified education and employment . . .  check, stellar driving record . . . check, substance abuse test came back clean . . . check. But wait. No, this can’t be happening.  Your best candidate is a registered sex offender?


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You might recall that back in 2011 a federal judge ordered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to reimburse the staffing company, PeopleMark, for over $750,000 worth of legal fees and expert witness costs it incurred as a result of  overzealous prosecution tactics concerning their employment background check practices.

The premise of the case was the EEOC’s contention that PeopleMark automatically rejected candidates that had criminal records.  Even worse was that they ignored evidence that would have torpedoed their case. The EEOC put together a list of 286 applicants they said were denied employment based on PeopleMark’s blanket policy.  Evidently, they wouldn’t release the names of these applicants until they were compelled to do so by the court. When PeopleMark received the list, they discovered that 22% of these applicants with criminal records were actually hired.  They even notified the EEOC of this fact, yet the EEOC continued to pursue the case.

EEOC appealed the court’s ruling to the Sixth Circuit court and earlier this week [...]

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Federal Criminal Background Checks for Employers

If you’re running a criminal background check by adhering to best practices, including a search in each county to determine if your candidate has any convictions on his/her record, then you might consider your employment background screening program both thorough and accurate. On the other hand, if this does not describe your current program, you should consider submitting a request to find out how EmployeeScreenIQ helps clients create a comprehensive screening program tailored to their needs.

But even if your background check company conducts a thorough search, there could be another piece of the puzzle missing: what if your candidate was convicted of a federal crime?

Well-known federal convicts include Bernie Madoff, former Illinois Governor’s Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, John Dillinger, Al Capone, The Unabomber, John Gotti and Aldrich Ames.

Unfortunately, a county criminal background check would not include these federal convictions or any others.  However, there is a good way for you to search for federal convictions without breaking the bank: a Federal District Criminal Records Search.

Basics of a Federal Record Search

Federal District Criminal Record Searches identify criminal activity prosecuted through the federal court system. Criminal activity prosecuted in Federal District Courts typically involves violations of the Constitution or other federal law. These crimes include tax evasion, embezzlement, bank robbery, kidnapping, mail fraud and other federal statute violations.

There are 94 federal judicial districts throughout the country, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States – the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands – have district courts that hear federal cases.

And as mentioned previously, federal criminal convictions do not appear in state or county felony and misdemeanor court record searches. Therefore a federal district search is imperative if such records are needed. Each state is comprised of several federal districts.


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Hot List of Background Screening Companies

We are proud to announce that EmployeeScreenIQ has been included by Workforce Management Magazine on their “Hot List” of Employment Related Screening Providers for the sixth consecutive year. The list recognizes the top background screening companies in our industry.

This distinction validates our “No Shortcuts” approach to employment background checks and our unwavering commitment to compliance, accuracy and best practices.  We also would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge our valued employees and clients who allow us to raise the bar and set new industry standards each and every day.


Hot List 2013 of Background Screening Companies




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Federal Criminal Background Checks

We’ve had a lot of questions over the past few days about whether employers that conduct background checks or background screening companies would be affected by the federal government shutdown.  While we knew that the vast majority of the services we provide would be unaffected, we wondered if we would still be able to complete Federal District Criminal Background Checks.  These searches are performed through the federal government’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system and we were concerned that the service could be impacted.

For a quick refresher, Federal Criminal Court Searches identify criminal activity prosecuted through the federal court system. Criminal activity tried in Federal District Courts typically involves violations of the Constitution or other federal law. Such crimes include tax evasion, embezzlement, bank robbery, kidnapping, mail fraud and other federal statute violations.

That said, I couldn’t wait to get in the office this morning to call PACER and find out. [...]

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Quality Background checks

“Are we there yet?” That was my favorite question to fire off to my parents minutes after getting in the old Electra station wagon (remember the movie Vacation?) for a road trip. That question became a recurring theme in my early twenties with the advent of the dial up modem. And now in my adult life, that question has been replaced with, How long should it take to complete a criminal background check for employment?

For the purposes of this post, let’s just deal with county criminal records which are by far the best method for conducting criminal background checks.

For starters, let’s talk about the incorrect answer to the above question: Instant. As we’ve chronicled ad nauseum, an instant criminal background check is a recipe for disaster.

And the correct answer? My first response is that the average county criminal search takes about 24-36 hours to complete (this average includes clear records as well as those including convictions). But if that question is answered properly, it requires far more explanation.

If a background screening company is doing a good job, they ought to use the best possible resource for retrieving court data. In most cases, that means conducting a physical search of records at the courthouse. However, there are some instances where a direct web interface is the best option.

Here’s a breakdown of the various research options and how long they take to complete:

  • In-County Court Research- When physical research of court records is necessary, the average turnaround time is anywhere from 30-36 hours.  This is by far, the most common method for conducting a thorough criminal background check, so it has the biggest impact on the overall turnaround time.  When no records are found, turnaround times are considerably shorter.
  • Clerk Run Searches- Some courts throughout the country do not allow non-court personnel to conduct a criminal background check.  Instead the court researcher must rely upon a court clerk to perform the research on their behalf.  And unfortunately, court personnel don’t always make this research a priority.  For instance, it’s not uncommon throughout the state of New Hampshire or in Las Vegas, Nevada for searches without records to take more than a week to complete.  And fughetaboutit when a possible record is found.  That can sometimes take in excess of two weeks. Other areas that are well-known for clerk run searches are Phoenix, Arizona various counties throughout Northern California and the state of Michigan.
  • Direct Web Interface- When using a direct court interface, the results are available instantly.  However, don’t get too excited.  There are a couple important things to consider here.  1.) EmployeeScreenIQ has found that only approximately 25% of counties throughout the country offer a service that is as good as or better than physical research.  2.) These searches are great when no record is found but if there are records, there is usually a lot of raw data that needs to be sifted through before reporting.

Now that you know the various types of research, it is also important to understand how the presence of criminal records can impact turnaround time.  And again, if you are using a reputable background screening company, there is more work to do before simply reporting the presence of a conviction.

Here’s a breakdown of the activities that can impact turnaround time:

  • If the record is understandable and straight forward a reputable background screener will confirm that the personal identifiers (name and date of birth, address or social security number) match the subject of the search.  They will also ensure that the record is reportable under state and federal law.  The last thing you want is to make a hiring decision based on inaccurate or unreportable data.
  • If the record is unclear, a reputable background screening company will contact the court for additional information.  Sometimes, they can clear everything up in one quick phone call.  Don’t hold your breath though.  Many courts are understaffed these days and even the simplest question could take some time to resolve.  If court personnel can’t answer your question without further research it could take some time.  Once the information has been resolved, the company will perform the aforementioned confirmation steps.

Advice for HR Professionals:

  • Build time into your hiring process to conduct a thorough criminal background check.  Figure that your average background check will be completed in 2 to 4 days.
  • Don’t take shortcuts in the screening process.  If it sound too good to be true (i.e. instant background checks or guarantees on exactly how long a search will take), it most definitely is.
  • Identify a screening partner willing to update you when a search is delayed.  It’s a service business and you should have to chase them down.
  • Be transparent with your applicants.  Let them know how long a search usually takes and keep them posted.

Do you ever doubt the accuracy of your employment background checks? Find out how to avoid a hiring horror story through HR’s Guide to Effective Evaluation of Background Screening Providers. Click here to download.

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File this one away in the category, “You Can’t Make this $h:t Up”.

The EEOC has cleared the path for 10 former contestants to sue the show’s producers for the discriminatory use of criminal background checks.  The suit alleges that 31 percent of ‘Idol’ semi-finalists who were black males were disqualified for reasons “unrelated to the singing talent” and that in the show’s 10 year run none of the non-black contestants were disqualified.

According to ABC News, “The plaintiffs, all of whom were disqualified from the show over six seasons for reasons other than singing — including criminal history — were recently issued notices of “right to sue” by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, allowing the 429-page lawsuit they filed in July to move forward.”

The 10 plaintiffs include Jaered Andrews (season 2), Corey Clark (season 2), Jacob John Smalley (season 2), Donnie Williams (season 3), Terrell and Derrell Brittenum (season 5), Thomas Daniels (season 6), Akron Watson (season 6), Ju’Not Joyner (season 8)and Chris Golightly (season 9).

Each former contestant is seeking $25 million in damages for “economic injuries, lost business opportunities and/or lost earning potential” following their dismissal from “Idol.”

I find this case extremely interesting for five reasons:

  • Who knew that American Idol was still on TV:)
  • By suggesting that the plaintiffs were disqualified for reasons unrelated to their singing, they are taking an extremely narrow view of what is and what is not job-related.  Sure, these people could carry a tune but if they were going to represent the show as all contestants do, then American Idol should be entitled to deny participation to those who might reflect negatively on the show’s image.  In fact, that’s exactly what the show’s producers argued in their response to the complaint.  They argued that they use background checks to insure that contestants who may become finalists have no legal entanglements that might ‘interfere’ with or ‘embarrass’ the show. They also said that their biggest concern with a contestant’s arrest history was not having that person available because of pending legal matters.  I’m thinking that it might be an unreasonable request to ask the producer’s to reschedule a live show if someone has to appear in court.
  • “American Idol” producers argue that these “contestants” are not “employees”.  If they aren’t employees, then it would appear to me that the case really has no merit.  Excuse the expression, but this is definitely not a black and white issue.  Will a court determine that they were employees because they stood to get paid for their participation?
  • And to me, the most compelling argument is that the show did not disqualify 31 black contestants who had criminal records.  This suggests that there was no blanket policy in place to deny participation based on the presence of a criminal record.
  • Four of the twelve winners (33%) are black.  Hello!  If this doesn’t demonstrate fair treatment, I don’t know what will.

I wonder what former ‘Idol’ judge Simon Cowell might say about all this.

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