My Contractor Said They Performed A Background Check


Stop me if you’ve heard this before (or something similar): “I just don’t understand how my contractor could have placed a habitual convicted felon in my accounting department (for example). They said they performed background checks on all of their employees!”

Similar statements are being uttered in today’s workplace more than ever and most likely the contractor in the scenario above was telling the truth. They might very well have performed a background check. However, those who have spent time reviewing our past rants know that the term “background check” is a generic catch-all that can have many different meanings. Even specific elements within a “background check” can have different meanings. Take for instance a criminal background check. There are several different types of record searches: County, Federal District, Statewide, National Database, etc. Even a County Search can take on a different meaning. Some utilize off-site on-line technology to tie in with courts as opposed to on-site research. Some only search for felonies, while others will include both felonies and misdemeanors. This is clearly an issue on the minds of today’s HR professionals. In fact, HR Magazine recently highlighted the issue of “screening the extended workforce” as one of the top trends for 2008.

We have devoted much ink to defining the differences between all of these searches and by and large I believe that the market place is more educated about these differences than ever before. How then, does our example continue to take place?

Ask Questions and Define the Process

You spent a lot of time and energy developing a background screening process that allows you to hire the most qualified candidates and to minimize risk in the workplace. When it comes time to hire a contractor that will be placing their employees in your organization or in front of your clients, it is important not only to make sure that they perform background checks, but to understand what type of background check they perform. It is also important to let them know what defines a suitable candidate for your organization and what does not.

Too many companies are willing to accept that their contractors perform background checks and are satisfied with that. Don’t assume that their screening criteria and hiring standards are comparable to yours. Share with them your specific requirements. If your requirements for a specific job function are to conduct a 7 Year Criminal Record Search in all counties identified in an Address History Search, ask them to mirror these standards. If you include alias names, make sure that is included as well. Make sure that your definition of a county search is the same. There are too many misconceptions, misrepresentations and misunderstandings about what various searches do and it is important that everyone is on the same page here. Further, if there is more specific criteria you have for certain positions, ensure that these are being adhered to. For example, you might consider it important to evaluate a Motor Vehicle Record for each of your organization’s drivers. If your contractor is hiring a driver on your behalf, make sure they do so as well.

Further, inquire as to whether they ever update background checks over the course of their employees’ tenure with the company. If so, how often is the background check updated? What information is sought in these updates?

Caution! Don’t Assume You Have the Right to Review the Consumer Report.

A common misconception among employers is that you automatically have the right to review the background check of a candidate your contractor has screened. Don’t make this assumption. The FCRA prohibits those with a permissible purpose to execute a consumer report to share the information with any third party unless the signed Applicant Release specifically grants permission to do so. Therefore unless specific consent has been granted you do not have the right to review the report. You have two options here: 1) Communicate your hiring standards for what constitutes an acceptable candidate and cede control of the process to your contractor or 2) Consult an employment attorney who can modify the Applicant Release to legally allow you to review such information.

There are pros and cons to each scenario. If you cede control of the hiring process you lose the ability to ensure that your standards are being met, however you do insulate yourself from the liability associated with negligent hiring decisions. I’ve seen organizations do it both ways and it is important to consider your unique needs and requirements before making such a decision.

Who Should Be Screened?

The following are examples of contract workers that should be screened before being cleared to work at your organization.

  • Contract (PEO for example) and 1099 Employees
  • Temporary or Temp-to-Perm Workers
  • Onsite Vendors’ Employees

When is the Proper Time to Address This Issue?

No rocket science here. Addressing this issue before you sign a contract is obviously the best practice. Sweat the details and have them agreed to in writing. This is an important issue and one which requires both parties to be on the same page.

Nick Fishman is Chief Marketing Officer for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Nick can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 441 or

Fair Credit Reporting Act
Instant Nationwide Criminal Database Searches: Know What You Don’t Know