Too Many Questions Unanswered About DC Gunman’s Employment Background Check

Nick Fishman

In light of Monday’s tragedy in Washington DC, our nation again mourns the loss of innocent lives which could have been prevented.  And while I desperately wanted to fire off an angry post on Monday, I intentionally sat back for two days so that I could digest all of the finger-pointing I knew would ensue.  Some people say it’s gun control.  Others question why the gunman, Aaron Alexis was honorably discharged from the Navy after a pattern of poor behavior. Some wonder if this person should have been given security clearance or if his mental records should have been considered by the contractor that hired him.

Over the last couple days, I’ve heard some wild and unfounded accusations as well as proposed remedies for how events like these can be avoided in the future.  But before we can discuss how to remedy the problem, we need the facts.

Rather than focus on politically divisive issues or those in which I have little expertise, I want to discuss some important points to consider about the employment background check that many feel failed to highlight aberrant behavior that would have dissuaded the employer that hired him.

1. Last night I sat on a plane and watched CNN line up a bunch of so-called experts that wondered why his mental issues were not revealed on the employee background check.  Remember, there are limitations on the information that employers can consider when making a hiring decision and mental health records (or any health records for that matter), are forbidden.  So the mere fact that Aaron Alexis, had sought medical attention would never be fair game for the employer.

2. The contractor that hired Alexis claims that the only thing they found when they conducted a background check was a minor traffic offense.  In several of the interviews I’ve heard, many have  jumped to the conclusion that criminal background check was less than thorough.  The truth is that it is way too early to know.  We don’t have all of the information. Yes, we’ve heard that Alexis had some run-ins with the law, but so far all we’ve heard about is arrests, not convictions.  And while arrest records can show up on a background check, it is unclear whether these incidents took place in the counties where Alexis lived.  If they didn’t, finding them would have been like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.  Furthermore, I think we all have heard enough about dangers in denying employment to those that have been charged with crimes but not convicted.  In order to know if the background check was flawed, we need more information.

3. Was the contractor using the Navy’s exact background screening criteria and, or the same background screening company?  We’ve spoken extensively about this in the past (check out “Screening Your Contingent Workforce: What HR Professional Should Know”). Maybe they did miss arrests or convictions that should have been found. Perhaps the Navy called for stricter background checks than the contractor utilized.  Again, we won’t know until or unless this information comes to light.

4. Because Alexis was honorably discharged, it is unlikely if his military records were requested by his prospective employer that they would contain any adverse information.

One thing that we should all appreciate is that the need to conduct employment background checks seems to be getting embraced universally by the media, politicians and pundits alike.  This can only have a positive influence on employers whether they are looking for validation of their screening program or whether they are the cave dwellers who haven’t yet figured out that they better start conducting background checks to protect themselves, their employees and their customers.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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  • Great article, as usual Nick. I don’t think it was a breakdown in any type of background check. I think what we have here is a broken process. The process failed, the rules that govern the process failed.

  • Good points Nick! It is important to wait until all the facts are in before pointing fingers. “Monday morning quarterbacking” is easy to do, but it accomplishes nothing unless we know everything.

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