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The Growing Trend to
Thorough Background Checks

by Glenn Hammer

The Growing Trend to Thorough Background Checks
"Small-business executives...are realizing that background checks for employee applicants are not an expensive process exclusive to their big corporate brethren. Pre-employment screenings are seen as the first step in battling lost productivity or turnover as the result of employees who were hired based on training or experience they claimed to have, but just didn't." See Pre-employment Screening Gaining Favor

There is a noticeable trend toward more thorough employee background checks. Employers are finding that a simple criminal background check is no longer sufficient to protect their assets and reputation. Post-hire screening is also becoming more common.
The Reasons for the Trend to Thorough Background Checks
Reports of the disastrous consequences for organizations from poor background checks are regularly reported in the news. The errant actions of a bad hire can seriously harm the reputation and brand image of businesses large or small, resulting in a loss of sales, new business, and worker productivity.

Thorough background checks are a simple business investment given the potential losses they help avoid. Consider the benefits of reduced turnover, reduced theft and fraud, and other reduced employee misbehavior (violence, sexual harassment, or substance abuse etc.) to your bottom line.

Some vendors have assembled databases that purport to be statewide or national criminal databases. In practice, these databases are gathered from different sources, reporting only some jurisdictions and types of crime. Database criminal searches, in contrast to searches done directly at the courts, are notoriously incomplete. See Criminal Background Checks Incomplete. Criminal history is only one facet of an applicant's character. Education and Employment verifications check the past for appropriate skills, experience, and workplace behaviors. More thorough background checks are a "must" in gathering accurate and complete information.

The Return on Investment from Thorough Background Checks
It is becoming more common for experts of many kinds (lawyers, accountants, security experts, human resource consultants, loss prevention specialists, etc.) to strongly recommend thorough background checks. (For typical examples, see Background Check Guidelines and Sample Policies by Industry Sources.) I was once stopped in the parking lot by an attorney who unexpectedly said, "Employers are stupid to not use your services."

A background check can help an employer in many ways. A recent SHRM article Criminal Background Checks: A Checklist of the Pros and Cons listed the following reasons to conduct a background check.
  • Reduce theft and embezzlement.
  • Limit legal exposure for negligent hiring and retention.
  • Increase applicant quality.
  • Check for potential discipline problems.
  • Verify application information.
  • Decrease insurance costs.
  • Discover drug or alcohol problems in applicant.
  • Decrease workplace violence.
  • Discourage applicants who have something to hide.
  • Limit uncertainty in the hiring process.
  • Enable the company to know who it is hiring.

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) says, "The need to hire the most qualified candidate, and the inherent risk in hiring the wrong candidate, has never been greater. Workplace crime, unethical business practices, and misleading resumes are on the rise. The costs of fraud, embezzlement, theft and violence are a multi-billion dollar drain on our economy, bleeding organizations both large and small. Furthermore, negative publicity associated with negligent hiring—especially as the result of a less than thorough background check—can devastate the very foundation of a trusted organization. Organizations owe it to themselves and to everyone with whom they come into contact to know everything they can about their employees and volunteers, and the most effective method to accomplish this is by conducting thorough background checks." See, Background Screening – Past, Present and Future.

How are Employers Being More Thorough in Their Background Checks?
  • More employee positions are being backgrounded. We have many examples in our own customer base of employers conducting background checks on a single function, such as accounting, and then expanding to all job functions.
  • Employers are expanding background checks beyond just full-time employees to part-time employees, temps, contractors, and volunteers.
  • Employers have discovered that Database Criminal Record searches are riddled with errors and are hardly better than no background check at all. If used properly, databases can be a great research tool, but they are never a bona fide background check by themselves.
  • Background checks now commonly include county criminal record checks for counties of school, work, residence, and their neighboring counties. While a single county criminal record check used to be the norm, nearly all of our customers now request at least counties of school, work, and residence on all background checks.
  • Many employers have moved beyond just County Criminal Record Checks to Federal Criminal Record Checks, National Wants and Warrants, Sex Offender Registry Checks, ‘State-Wide’ Criminal Record Checks and ‘Nation-Wide’ Criminal Record Checks.
  • Most background checks now include verifications such as Employment Verifications, Education Verifications, and Professional License Verifications. There is good reason for this: We find more fraud and misrepresentations in these checks than we do in unreported criminal histories.
  • More employers are discovering international background checks. While international background checks are more costly, slower, and less comprehensive than domestic U.S. background checks, they are nevertheless worthwhile.
  • Employment eligibility checks are a recent additional requirement for employers. Checks such as Medicaid Sanctions, Terrorist Watch Lists, Social Security and Department of Homeland Security Employment Eligibility Verifications are now essential elements of employment background checks.
  • A myriad of other screens, checks, and searches are available to the employer. These include Credit Checks, Driving Record Checks, Drug Screening, and Skills Testing.

Summary
A thorough, complete background check is a good business investment. It protects companies from hiring problem employees, as well as from negligent hiring claims. Businesses are now backgrounding part-time workers, temps, and volunteers. More background checks are now being done for all work positions. A thorough background check goes beyond a simple criminal background check and verifies educational claims and previous employers, revealing many other potential problems.

Related Resources

The Author
Glenn Hammer, founder of A Matter of Fact, a California-based employment background check firm. www.amof.info

Note: This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.