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Pre-Employment Screening Part I

Employers are acutely aware that hiring an applicant with an undesirable background, criminal and/or civil record, or falsified credentials can carry enormous economic and legal consequences. Pre-employment screening has proven to be a cost effective way to protect the business, the owners, and employees from the disaster a “bad hire” can bring. That said, employers often ask me, “Why do I need to do pre-employment screening?”  Employers also ponder whether to perform pre-employment screen in-house with internal resources or to outsource it.  If they outsource it, they wonder to whom they should do so.  Employers are also concerned about laws around pre-employment screening and what is and is not legal.  I also get questions from potential clients on how to improve what they are doing now to ensure that the individuals they hire are appropriate for their organization.  This post, and part II, will attempt to address employers’ concerns around pre-employment screening.

Employers typically engage in a pre-employment screening program for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Discourage applicants that have something to hide. Just the fact a company has a pre-employment screening program in place will discourage the applicant with falsified credentials or a criminal/civil history.
  • Eliminate uncertainty. With a quality screening program in place, the employer no longer has to worry about whether the person they are hiring has the appropriate background for the role.
  • Demonstrate due diligence. All employers have a reasonable duty to show care in the hiring process. That means the employer must take reasonable steps to determine if an applicant is fit for the job for which he/she applied. For example when hiring a fleet driver, the employer must make every effort to know about the applicant’s driving history, criminal and civil record.
  • Reduce cost. A company may spend a great deal of money training and equipping a new hire only to find out this person is not right for the job. The cost of pre-employment screening is small when considering the cost to litigate a neglect hiring or neglect retention suit.
  • Improves productivity. No matter how large or small the company; employees that feel secure in the work place tend to be more productive.

It is important to note that pre-screening is not an invasion of a person’s privacy when done appropriately and within the confines of the law, and great care must be taken to keep it that way. The screening is an examination of the public aspect of the applicant’s life such as a criminal or civil history, driving record, education, and past performance at other organizations. To make sure the applicant’s privacy rights are protected, there are federal laws in force that outline what can and cannot be done in a pre-employment screening.  These will be discussed in Part II of this post.

Now that you know some of the reasons of why pre-employment screening is important to conduct; let’s consider the next question: should you conduct the screening in-house or outsource? Let’s explore in-house first. Regardless of whether you are a small company with a single individual assigned to the task, or a larger organization with a full human resource department to perform the screening process, there are limits to what can be accomplished in-house. Other than calling former employers for references and contacting education institutions to confirm degrees, employers generally cannot conduct in-depth screenings due to the specialized resources and knowledge required to do so.  And most organizations do not have individuals on staff specialized in this area, and frequently it is not beneficial to have such an individual as a permanent staff member since they are not usually needed to perform the role on a daily basis.

It is important to note that oragnizations risk legal liability if the procedures utilized to check on the applicant infringe on legally protected areas of privacy. A great deal of time must be spent learning the laws that apply to pre-employment background checks, in particular the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and the Health Information Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA). Special release and information forms must be obtained and, in addition, your state and county may have other laws specific to pre-employment screening.

To conduct the criminal aspect of the screening, you must rely on the many databases found on the Internet that “claim” to offer background checks. In reality, these information vendors sell information to anyone with a credit card, thus your company could be buying information that is not as current or accurate as necessary. And last, but now least, much time is devoted to contacting past employers, references, and education institutions often leaving messages an, frankly, playing “phone tag.” By outsourcing this vital part of the employment process, your HR professional is relieved of a time consuming and specialized task and your company can ensure that, by outsourcing to the right company, the pre-screening process will be completed within the constraints of the law. Your HR professional can now devote time to more important tasks associated with his/her role.

Now – to whom should you outsource this work? The most important consideration must be they are a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA).  Why is that important? Simply put, a CRA is legally compliant, and you can be assured that the pre-screening process is within the confines of the law. Companies who are CRAs comply with all federal, state and local laws and have available to them private criminal background screening databases that comply with FCRA, DPPA, and HIPPA regulations. Look for a licensed private investigation agency or company that is a CRA and confirm this status with them.  Not only do they comply with every aspect of the law, but most are former law enforcement officers or agents and thus are well versed on how to search courthouse records for any civil records to clarify any questions should they arise during the pre-screening investigation process.

A licensed private investigator that is a CRA knows the importance of having a policy in place for the destruction of sensitive material.  They will do background checks on potential employees, are willing to make the calls to verify past employment, references, and degrees, and have the ability to deal with the clerk of court when appropriate to meet your company’s specific needs. It is always a good idea to contact your state’s licensing division to verify that the person has a valid license and has no pending action against them.  Then meet with the investigator you select to ensure you are comfortable with them.  Let them know the specific needs of your company. Start building an honest open relationship from the very beginning and you have gone a long way to forming a pre-employment screening process that will serve your organization’s needs and ensure the privacy of individuals applying to work for your organization.

For more information, please contact Sandy at Gold Shield Legal Investigations, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Sandy Glover

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