Employers have a legitimate need to know whether job candidates have
relevant criminal convictions, and employees have a right to expect
a safe and secure working environment. The demand for pre-employment
background checks has soared in the wake of shocking acts of
workplace violence, recent corporate scandals and 9/11. According to
the Society for Human Resource Management, 80 percent of employers
conducting background checks routinely. By
comparison, only about half of employers ran
background checks in 1996.
imperative for employers, large and small, to have a safe hiring
program in place. The process should start
before a prospective employee fills
out an application. You should inform the
applicant that a background check is part of the hiring process.
This in itself may provide a deterrent to those
with a criminal past. Additionally, the
job application should include a question about whether or not the
prospective employee has been convicted of a crime.
A criminal check is a key component of a
background check. However, a criminal
check has become a "buyer beware"
product. Many Web-based information
brokers provide criminal checks that sound very good—they are cheap,
provide instant results, and claim to be "national"
in scope. But in reality, many online
criminal check databases provide little more than a false sense of
The best method for checking
criminal records in the U.S.
is to send someone to the courthouse to manually search the records.
While this sounds ridiculously low-tech in this day and age, the
simple truth is that there is no national criminal database
available. The FBI has a national database, but it is not public
record. Checking criminal court records in
the locations where the applicant has lived does not provide a
guarantee that the person has never committed a crime. However, U.S.
Department of Justice statistics indicate that most crimes are
committed a short distance from where the criminal's
place of residence.
Number verification is another standard component of
a background check. This check provides an
extensive address history, as well as the name or names that are
associated with the use of the SSN. If you
know where the applicant has lived, and you know what names the
applicant has used, you can determine where the criminal checks need
to be conducted. Therefore, an SSN
verification makes a criminal check more
Social Security Number
verification can be extremely important in cross-checking
information listed on a prospective employee's
application or resume. For example, if the applicant claims to have
lived and worked in Sacramento for the past six years, but
the check finds a
two-year-old address in Los Angeles, it
would be a red flag.
Social Security Number
verification also provides the employer with information about
whether or not the SSN is valid, as well as when and where it was
issued. Authentic looking Social Security
cards can be purchased on the street for about $135.00. Social
Security Number verification frequently detects fraudulent SSN's,
numbers issued before the person was born, or numbers that belong to
a deceased person.
While the criminal check,
combined with Social Security Number verification, is
a front line of defense against hiring a
criminal, doing additional types background checks increases the
likelihood of spotting a problem. Many
employers request a driving record as part of a
standard background check, whether the employee will be driving on
the job or not. The DMV record can point to substance abuse problems
when there are DUI's or reckless driving
convictions. Beyond that, if the individual has numerous moving
violations or accidents, or if he repeatedly fails to pay his
tickets or show up for court dates, it may
indicate a pattern of behavior. The
individual may not be someone you can
count on to show up for work consistently
and on time.
credit report can also be a powerful tool. But unless
you are hiring the person
for a position where
money will be handled, it should not be the sole criterion
for making a hiring decision. If the
applicant has excessive debt, numerous collections, judgments, tax
liens, or a bankruptcy, it could indicate a pattern of behavior. In
addition, the applicant's wages may be
subject to garnishment. The credit report also provides information
regarding former names, addresses and employers. This information
should be cross-checked against the application.
Workers' Compensation checks are commonly
requested as part of a background check,
particularly in California, where the
premiums are high. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, a Workers'
Compensation check cannot be conducted
until there is an offer and acceptance of employment. In California,
the law applies to any private employer with five or more employees.
The kinds of information available with this check are: body part
injured, date of injury, employer name, and final outcome. While you
cannot ask an applicant whether he or she has ever filed a Workers'
Compensation claim, you may inquire
about whether they are able to bang away at a computer keyboard all
day. If they indicate that they do not have a problem typing all
day, but you find a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome, you
may withdraw the job offer.
The more types of
checks you conduct in combination
with one another, the more powerful the background check. Our
company has performed many tens of thousands of background checks on
all kinds of employees—from factory workers to physicians. We have
found that when there is a criminal record, there is also likely to
be inconsistencies with the names and addresses reported with
a Social Security Number verification, and
there will probably also be unpaid traffic tickets and bad credit.
All of these checks point to patterns of behavior. There is no
substitute for careful interviewing and checking references.
However, objective fact-driven information should
be part of the front-end evaluation process.
© 2005 Lynn Peterson all rights reserved.