Employment screening means, essentially, checking out a job candidate’s background. Is the person who he or she claims to be, with the qualifications stated in the resume or job application? Does the candidate have any criminal convictions or other disqualifying qualities or issues?
It’s easy to get employment screening done nowadays – a few mouse clicks will get you an online report on just about anybody via one of the hundreds of Web-based employment screening companies out there. But, frankly, many of the screening services being offered online are cursory and, well, unreliable at best. Are you sure you’re really getting a valid, reliable screening report? Will it stand up to scrutiny if a legal issue (e.g., God forbid, a lawsuit) ever happens to your company? To judge this, you need to know a little about employment-related background checking, which is what this brief article is about.
First, you should be aware that pre-employment screening in the U.S. is closely regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and various state employment laws. The law does of course permit employers to conduct background checks on potential employees, but employers are required to disclose in writing to the job applicant that they intend to do so, and if an “adverse action” is taken due to information found in the background check (i.e., the person is not hired), then the employer has to inform the applicant of this and disclose the specific unfavorable information uncovered.
Oftentimes, such unfavorable information consists of a criminal records finding. A thorough pre-employment check should always include a comprehensive criminal records search. If your job candidate has been convicted of fraud or other serious crimes in the past, this is obviously relevant to your employment decision (although the law requires you to consider each case of a criminal record finding on an individual basis in terms of its seriousness and job relevancy.)
It’s also important to be aware that many “third-party” pre-employment screening services (especially Web-based companies) do a less-than-adequate job of searching criminal records. They simply don’t cast a wide enough net in their searches. Most conduct criminal records searches only in the state-of-residence or even just the county-of-residence of the job applicant. So your applicant may have a fraud conviction, or even a lengthy rap sheet, in another state, but come up clean on the pre-employment check.
Many people with criminal records are quite aware of this shortcoming, and simply move out-of-state when job hunting.
That’s why your screening company should run a national database criminal records search as part of the screening process. Unfortunately, the best national criminal records databases currently available to the public are incomplete. They omit data from numerous counties across the country and sometimes contain out-of-date data. So it’s important to supplement the national database criminal records search with onsite searches at county courthouses in your job applicant’s counties-of-residence. All reputable pre-employment screening agencies have this capability.
Accepting your screening agency’s “standard” pre-employment screening report, if it checks for criminal records only in your applicant’s state-of-residence, is clearly inadequate. Your otherwise-impressive applicant may have a history of serious fraud convictions or other crimes in another state.
But even the criminal records searches described above are not enough. To be really thorough, your screening agency must also check:
— Aliases. Has your job candidate been convicted of a crime under another name?
— Warrants. Is your candidate wanted somewhere in the U.S.? Although you can’t legally deny an applicant a job for this reason, you can suggest that he/she reapply once the criminal warrant is cleared up. The same is true if the applicant is out on bail pending prosecution. You can ask the candidate to reapply after appearing in court and clearing the matter. (Note that you can’t legally inquire whether your candidate is in a drug rehabilitation program, however, as this may fall under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and compromise your position should litigation ever occur.)
— Federal convictions, such an income tax evasion, mail fraud, drug trafficking, and immigration law offenses.
— International “wanted” lists, such as Interpol’s.
— And yes, even terrorist watch lists. Why not? — it’s easy to do.
Unfortunately, very few pre-employment screening companies are this thorough. To most, pre-employment screening is a “volume” business and each applicant you submit gets a quick and cursory (not to say “quick and dirty”) once-over. However, if you specifically request the above additional searches, most will comply.
After An Employment Offer Has Been Made
Past workers’ comp claims are the most obvious type of public record to research at this stage. You can’t legally check to determine if your job applicant has a history of making workers’ compensation claims prior to making an offer of employment. Workers’ compensation history searches must always be conducted post-offer. However, this type of information can obviously be a valuable tool in your fraud-fighting arsenal. Not only can it identify habitual claim filers, it can also help your company avoid placing new employees in positions that may pose risk of re-injury.
Note, however, that employers may not rescind an offer due to finding claims and must make a reasonable effort to accommodate a previously-injured worker. Even so, a workers’ comp history search can be useful at the time a new employee is brought aboard in verifying his/her employment record supplied on the job application. If an applicant has failed to list a previous employer against which he/she filed a claim, this says something about the employee’s integrity and likelihood to file future claims.
Currently, workers compensation history data is available in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming. California requires prior written approval by the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Workers Compensation Electronic Data Exchange (EDEX). Your pre-employment screening agency should be able to provide the needed forms.
Workers compensation searches are not available in: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
So criminal records (if thoroughly researched) and workers’ compensation histories can be extremely helpful — what other types of public information might be useful in the investigation of a suspicious claim? There are innumerable categories of records and searches that could be mentioned. Here are a few to consider:
— Civil Suits. You can research civil suits online through most counties’ websites. A good listing of county websites and phone numbers is available on Background Check Gateway.
— Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites. Did your candidate post pictures of himself/herself surfboarding off Malibu while collecting disability? Interesting.
— Newsgroups. Did you know that at Google Groups you can search someone’s postings to newsgroups (of which there are thousands and thousands nowadays) going back years? Yet many people have no idea their postings are public information which can easily be tracked by their name or email address. What’s your candidate talking about these days in the NASCAR Enthusiast newsgroup?
— Blogs. Same principle. If your candidate, like millions of us, keeps a chatty public diary online (i.e., blog), you can listen in via IceRocket.com.
— Career sites. Is your candidate applying for other jobs by posting a resume on Monster.com or other career sites? It might be revealing to find out what qualifications he/she is claiming in those applications.
— Real Estate. Has your candidate recently taken out a mortgage on a new house or condo? This can be an indicator of financial stability, an important qualification for many types of positions. You can research this at SearchSystems.net, among many other sites.
Accessing public records used to be an incredibly difficult chore. Your main tool in the “old days” was shoe leather as you plodded from courthouse to courthouse digging out dusty records. Now, with the Internet, it’s easy. You can access public records on your job applicant or employee which are scattered nationwide in minutes. Give it a try and you’ll soon wonder why you never made full use of public records as an employment-screening tool before!