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Personal Background Checks


Background Checks in Public Schools

In previous posts, we’ve often discussed the need for more comprehensive background checks in schools as well as a process that should be followed on a national level—not just school district to school district or state by state etc. This year alone, we’ve covered several stories on the EmployeeScreenIQ Blog involving new laws for both child care centers and schools.

Requirements for Background Checks in Schools

There is no standard of background checks for all schools in the United States to follow, nor are there federal laws that must be adhered. This results in many of the stories we hear—that teacher that was on the sex offender registry, yet worked for years in a middle school, or another who was convicted of sexual misconduct and worked with second graders. In any situation, the solution has been to step up background checks on employees in that particular school or school district, and in some instances on a state level. However, as we know, this has not been a true solution to the problem.


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Target to Ban the Box on Criminal Background Checks

In an effort to hire more ex-offenders, Minnesota-based Target Corporation has announced they are banning the box. The national retailer announced that it will be eliminating the box on the job application that asks the candidate about criminal history. Target Vice President, Jim Rowader announced that the new policy will go into effect for all U.S. applicants.

On May 13, 2013, the state of Minnesota passed a law expanding the state’s ban the box law to include private employers. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2014 and will prevent employers from conducting a criminal background check until later in the hiring process. For more details on the specifics of this law, read our post here. Target has decided to proactively take the step of implementing the policy on a national level, even though it is not required in most states.

In a report by Minneapolis Public Radio, Target is planning to work with a Minneapolis-based group Council on Crime and Justice to increase the company’s hiring of ex-offenders. In addition, Rowander announced the decision while participating as a panelist at a forum addressing unemployment among ex-offenders, organized by the advocacy group Take Action Minnesota.


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Ban the box Employment background checks

The governor of the State of Illinois has kept his promise to enact an administrative order, effectively “banning the box” for state workers.  On October 3, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed an executive order providing that applicants with a criminal record will no longer be asked about their criminal past when they apply for state jobs.

The governor’s administrative order doesn’t apply to private employers, who will still be free to inquire about criminal history on job applications. But applications for state government jobs will no longer include a check box indicating whether an applicant has pled guilty, or been convicted of a criminal offense, other than a minor traffic violation. State agencies will still be allowed to conduct background checks, and request information on criminal convictions, but not until later in the process.

Quinn signed the executive order after ban the box proposals failed three times in the state legislature. Without state “ban-the-box” legislation, the next governor could rescind the administrative order. Quinn is up for re-election next year.


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Adverse information on a background check

If you read the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as much as I do (insert nerd joke here), you might know that it allows non-conviction criminal information to be reported for up to seven years. One question that occasionally comes up is, when does the clock start on the seven year count? According to a recent brief filed jointly by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), your count may be wrong. [...]

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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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Comprehensive Criminal Background Check

Ten years ago, it was hard to find reputable background screening companies that enthusiastically endorsed the use of commercial criminal databases with “millions and millions of records” as an effective screening tool. Quality was poor, holes were huge, information was incomplete, and prices were sky high.

Five years ago, background screening companies became, more or less, ambivalent. Results weren’t as bad and the cost dropped, but it still didn’t give enough bang for the buck. Technically called a multi-jurisdictional database search, the lingo used by the industry and employers, National Database, suggested a level of completeness and accuracy that wasn’t there in reality.

Fast forward to today. EmployeeScreenIQ, along with other background screening companies, proudly turn that paradigm on its head. In our experience, we believe that a multi-jurisdictional database search should be part of every comprehensive criminal background check. Not because of what it finds. But because of what it doesn’t.

Now why on earth would a background screening company accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) endorse a product because of what it doesn’t find? This is my explanation: At its core, the National Database is just a compilation of data assembled from jurisdictions nationwide.

There is no uniformity regarding the completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information. Some counties, towns, and states participate, while others do not. Some provide all of their records. Some don’t. Some provide data quickly…you get the point. In sum, it’s a data dump. It hits our system looking nothing like what our clients see on a final report.

What it’s not: An easy-to-read report, with 8-10 lines, clearly indicating felony or misdemeanor, guilty or not guilty, the date of the offense.

What it is: Pages of criminal cases and hundreds of lines of raw, often contradictory data. At that point, we have three tasks as the background screening provider:

  1. We filter through to determine whether the information is or isn’t your candidate.
  2. If it is, we fill in the missing details. Knowing whether it’s your candidate means little if you don’t know what the conviction is. But it’s still a database search with many holes.
  3. Our third job is to verify and corroborate in conjunction with a traditional county court search, which meets the accuracy, thoroughness and up to date standard set forth by the FCRA…and lets our clients sleep well at night.

The problem was, this process cost more, took longer, and at the end of the day, almost always wasn’t the client’s candidate. When a candidate had records, we previously found on average, 13 of them, 89% of which were false positives (not your candidate after all). We didn’t report this information on the final report, but boy did it take a lot of time to filter it out. Using new methods, the false positive rate has dropped by 71%, and the number of records our team filters through has dropped 63%. These internal enhancements mean our clients can realize faster turnaround time, without compromising accuracy or quality.

It is crucial to point out that conducting this search does not guarantee every record that could be found will be found. Significant holes still exist. Any client that uses this tool as their primary background check strategy and in lieu of county court searches will miss many, many records. This product remains simply a tool to cast a wider net.

However, since the quality of the data has improved, and the percentage of false positives has dropped, and it has now become cost efficient, this database is sufficient for use in a criminal background check, at least in part. We consider it a strong complementary tool and look forward to working with our clients who want to expand the quality of their programs.

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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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Congress Background Checks

Despite the ongoing government shutdown, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that some business is being conducted on Capitol Hill—namely, a Congressional briefing on background checks. Earlier this week Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) hosted a Congressional briefing focused on the National Employment Law Project (NELP) report “Wanted – Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment”.  I blogged on the NELP report a few weeks ago, sharing my opinion that the report brings some important things to light—namely the glaring weaknesses in the FBI fingerprint system and the significant holes in that database.

I appreciate the work that NELP has done on this topic—a subject that needs to be publicly addressed and scrutinized. I part ways with NELP, however, when it comes to their recommendations on what to do about the failed Federal system. Instead of focusing on ways to improve the database by filling gaps, improving the completeness of the data and focusing on enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, NELP is advocating more restrictions for both private employers and the federal government alike.


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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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