4 Ways to Personally Benefit From Your Background Check Program, Part II

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In my last article, we discussed concepts that bolstered your image as a valued business partner in How to Build a Better Background Check. This solution based approach strengthened your company’s compliance, reduced costs, and tightened the scope of your criminal records checks. . Part II offers several additional ways to accomplish these goals.

Statewide criminal searches: There is a wrong time for it.

Statewide searches are a commonly misunderstood component of a criminal records check. While intuitively more comprehensive, the reality is far from that. A statewide criminal records search is a search of a publicly available state repository. Generally speaking, this repository is infrequently updated, lacks identifiers, and participation by individual county courthouses is uneven to say the least. In some states, 50% or less of all counties share their records. Availability is also an issue; only 33 states actually provide a public repository of criminal record information to search.

Turnaround time will likely rise if statewide searches are requested. When statewide criminal records checks are ordered, we will likely find the same hit at a county courthouse. However, it is likely these two government entities will report the information two different ways. When this happens, we must reconcile the information provided and clarify any possible discrepancies. This can be a very time intensive process. We need the court’s assistance to resolve any disparities to conform to state and federal laws, whereas if the statewide search was not requested, we could report the county record information as is.

Finally, any statewide criminal records check should not come at the expense of a full countywide felony and misdemeanor criminal records check. They can be a useful addition to a screening program, but countywide felony and misdemeanor searches remain the most accurate, thorough criminal records check available. Statewide criminal records checks should complement, not supplement, this effort.

How can you benefit?Request a statewide search judiciously but consistently, and never at the expense of a full county criminal record check. Understand that a statewide criminal record request will likely increase the turnaround time because of the reconciliation and compliance process. Communicate within your organization the expectations and realities that come with a state repository search.Statewide criminal searches: There is a right time for it.

In some parts of the country, a statewide criminal records search is the only way to obtain a comprehensive criminal record check. While the general opinion of statewide criminal records searches remains the same, there are two areas of the country where obtaining the best available product mandates requesting them:

In Maine, the court structure of some counties demands a statewide search be done in conjunction to return a felony and misdemeanor records check in that area. Our clients do not have to worry about requesting this ahead of time. If we are directed to run a criminal records check in those applicable areas of Maine, we will automatically search the statewide repository on your behalf. It is important to clarify this distinction when this search shows up on a background check. A statewide search in Maine is not necessarily a superfluous check.

The other state is New York. Most of the state restricts access to criminal record information for the purposes of pre-employment screening. All inquiries are directed away from local courthouses and toward New York’s Office of Court Administration. This is the one part of the country where the cost of a background check can rise rapidly. Because the state of New York charges a $52 fee for each name searched, we will seek your approval before running more than one name. However, to ensure a consistent, uniform screening process, when this fee does come into play, we strongly encourage our clients to run this search.

How can you benefit? By understanding that some statewide searches are necessary, you can ensure a consistent, compliant criminal record check. Demonstrate your commitment to compliance by not deviating from your screening process solely because the cost of an applicant is higher than normal.

Save (more) money by doing a better background check. This was a key element of last issue’s piece. We covered ways to create a better program based on the job responsibilities of each employee screened. By eliminating services for applicants where they may not be needed, you can spend more money on those that do, and your company pockets the difference. Here, we identify two services we offer but might not recommend to all clients.

Worker’s Comp searches are often asked for by new clients in the manufacturing and construction industry. Availability is limited, as only 40 states make this information available. In addition, in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, this can only be requested once a job offer is made and results cannot be used to deny employment.

Since we urge clients run a background check before a job offer is made, this clouds the hiring timeline. We do not recommend clients wait until an offer is made or the employee starts working before initiating the background check. However we do not recommend ordering a Worker’s Comp search before the offer is made. There is no skirting this ADA requirement. Furthermore, because results cannot be used to rescind a job offer, you’re provided with information you cannot use to make a hiring decision.

The second service is the Reference Interview. This is a useful tool. Speaking with former co-workers offers insight into your candidate’s character, abilities, and personality. However, we do not recommend it in lieu of employment verifications. Obtaining corroboration on your applicant’s stated dates of employment, title, reason for leaving, salary, etc. is integral in assessing honesty and character as well. And, if the name of their supervisor is provided, we will attempt to interview that person, free of charge. The distinction we draw between these two similar services lies within the “neutrality” of the information provided.

The primary concern regarding reference interviews revolves around the information we receive back from the reference. Colleagues your applicant wants us to call almost always portray your candidate as a very favorable, component employee, a “must hire” for any organization. Look back at previous hires that did not work out. What did their references say? Were they a superstar? Did their feedback measure up with your experiences or that of the hiring manager?

References are a valuable component of a full background check, especially as it pertains to interpersonal relationships and perceived compatibility among co-workers. We strongly recommend them if you are looking for added insight into the qualifications of your candidate and their projected fit within your organization. However, if you are looking for cost savings and must choose, allocate your valuable screening dollars toward employment verifications instead.

How you can benefit? Know the scope and impact of the services you request, as well as the decisions that can be made with the information provided. Understand which services are based on the opinions of others and which are not. Consult with your legal counsel and EmployeeScreenIQ if necessary.

Ask us what others do.We do not discuss a specific client’s screening program without their permission. However, there are common trends among geographical location, industry, company size, etc. We frequently make recommendations and can offer guidance on that basis. By virtue of serving a large, diverse client base, we can quickly recognize whether or not a screening program falls outside of those norms. Together, we can create a program that adds value to your organization. We will use the New York statewide fee as an example, and filter our insight through other clients’ practices on this issue.

Virtually all our clients that encounter this fee on a consistent basis, those located in New York, New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic States, run this search consistently. Among the clients who decline this search, they are generally located outside the northeastern United States. For our clients that routinely see this, this has become a standard part of their basic background check.

Almost all clients run this search when we recommend it. Clients in financial services, insurance, and medical services do this consistently. When it is declined, clients in the staffing, manufacturing and fast food industries do so more frequently. However, we also tend to find more criminal records for clients in these industries. It’s a slippery slope. While declining this keeps the cost down, it can lead to missing criminal records that would otherwise be found.

Clients that are smaller tend to decline this search more than larger companies. We empathize and understand the cost associated with this unique state fee and its impact on smaller clients. However, ironically, it is the smaller companies that could benefit most from knowing the results of this search. At a smaller company, there’s simply more risk that the actions of a single employee can have a damaging, sometimes irreversible negative impact on the overall business.

Creating and promulgating a standardized, compliant pre-employment screening program does not mean providing the same services for every company. There are generally accepted practices though, and our expertise can help you best serve yours.

How can you benefit?Understand which components of your screening program are standard tools and which are specific to your industry or your company’s unique needs. If you screen across multiple states or oversee a national program, use us to create a consistent, compliant process. Create a competitive advantage by committing to a best practices approach to pre-employment screening.

Kevin Bachman is Vice President of Quality Service for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Kevin can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 450 or kbachman@employeescreen.com.

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