About firstcontacthr

First Contact HR provides employment screening services, including drug and alcohol testing, identity validations, criminal and credit records research, driving records, identification badges, employment and education verifications, and workforce training.

Is your Company Prepared to Prevent Workplace Sexual Harassment?

It is difficult to open a newspaper or visit a news website without seeing another high-profile person accused of sexual harassment.   Sexual harassment is not just a problem in Hollywood and District of Columbia politics—it’s an issue in a wide range of industries and workplaces.  The social media movement, #metoo, illustrates how women can experience sexual harassment just about anywhere they go, from the office, to the subway, and even on airplanes.  Due to the uptick in allegations, many women are courageously telling their stories—some decades old—with the hope that it encourages others to come forward.  Many of the allegations have caused accused assailants to quit their jobs, leave their elected positions, and sell ownership of their companies.

The negative press associated with having a sexual harassment allegation claim within an organization can be expensive.  Failure to properly deal with a sexual harassment claim and protecting employees from verbal, physical and visual harassment, will undoubtedly damage an organization’s brand. Negative attention will have a lasting effect in the eyes of potential customers, vendors and employees.

Another impact resulting in the failure to properly deal with harassment claims comes in  the form of civil lawsuits brought on by the victim(s) in your organization.  Costly legal fees can negatively affect a company’s bottom line, and again tarnish its reputation based on what is uncovered. What’s more? The court proceedings will be made available for public viewing at any time via the internet.

So, what can an organization do to prevent sexual harassment claims in today’s troubling climate?

First, having a zero-tolerance policy is a good start for an organization to combat harassment of any form, but the most effective way to prevent it from happening is enacting a comprehensive strategy that includes continuous training.  Whether it is an in-person program, webinar format or an online video stream, yearly sexual harassment training sends a strong message to your employees that you not only take it very seriously, but that you have a plan in place should the policy be violated.  Sexual harassment training clarifies—for all employees—the line between giving compliments or extending gestures, and acts or behaviors that are considered harassment. Providing training and communicating the company policy should cover potential risky behavior displayed by employees, company leaders, customers or vendors in the workplace, over the internet, and using social media on and off company premises.  Most importantly, the company should have an objective process for employees to file sexual harassment claims that is taken seriously with a follow-up investigation.

When employees know the proper steps to take when improper behavior is evident, most claims of sexual harassment can be addressed internally, foregoing the need for outside intervention, including civil action. In cases when civil suits are unavoidable, then having proper documentation that a comprehensive strategy was in place, including training for all your employees can be a useful defense in mitigating the company’s legal risks.

Having a transparent, no retaliation policy goes one step further in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. If employees are not fearful of filing legitimate claims of harassment, then the company is truly taking the necessary and legally defensible steps for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond.

For information about sexual harassment training offered by First Contact HR, please call 267-419-1390 or email us at client.services@firstcontacthr.com

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An Inside Look at Properly Conducting a Background Check (Part II)

00013880The importance of choosing a background screening company that prides itself on being more than a transactional organization, cannot be overstated. Employers need HR Investigators who dig deeper and go beyond the surface of uncovered information to ensure data accuracy and legal compliance.  Without this thorough approach, employers may hire dangerous and/or unqualified people, or, conversely, job applicants may lose opportunities because their identity is not properly verified. Either of these outcomes is bad for business.  Hiring decisions based on bad data can land an employer in court (or worse).

Talented investigators avoid potentially negative hiring decisions by putting forth the added review and research required of every background check they perform.

Below are two real-world cases of checks that needed the extra time and attention.

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

When running a criminal background check with a name and date of birth provided by the job applicant, a serious sex offense was discovered. The names did not match up and the middle initial of the job applicant matched only the first name of the convicted sex offender. Additional research led the investigator to discover several alias names, one of which matched the applicant, with a matching date of birth.  The sex offender registry listed an address that, although similar, did not match with the information the applicant provided.  Rather than giving up, the investigator grew resourceful. She forwarded a copy of the sex offender’s photo from the online registry to our client and asked that they confirm whether it was their job applicant. Sure enough, the convict and the job applicant were the same person.  These extra steps positively identified a rapist who went out of his way to avoid detection, including providing an invalid address.   Had the investigator run the sex offender search and nothing more, this applicant’s record would have been returned as clean, and the employer may have made a hiring decision without critical information about the applicant’s character and past criminal activity.

Good Guy/Bad Guy

In another example based on actual events, a criminal records researcher prevented an uninformed hiring decision for another employer due to his keen instincts, due diligence and understanding of what constitutes a “red flag” when performing a background search. In this case, a job applicant’s information was run through the applicable state’s sex offender registry.  The applicant’s name matched an offender, but the year of birth did not match.  Further, a social security number trace did not verify.  A call to the client to verify the SSN and date of birth led our investigator to an entirely different SSN and date of birth. The correct SSN was run and the address matched that of the sex offender.  A Google search found that the education, prior job experience, and resume did match with the information provided by the job applicant.  Unfortunately, there were two different individuals with identical information. The individual purporting to be the Good Guy was actually a Bad Guy.  The Bad Guy found the Good Guy’s resume and other information online and copied it onto his employment application. A classic case of identity theft! Turns out, the Bad Guy had an extensive criminal record, including forgery, criminal trespassing, and stalking.  The frightening part is that without the foresight to follow up with the client about the personally identifiable information initially provided by the applicant, the education and employment information would have checked out as there was an individual by the same name who studied and worked as put forth on the consent form.  Had the investigator not contacted the client to confirm the SSN, this criminal would have skated through the background check and come out clean on the other side.

At First Contact HR, the real-life illustrations above are used as a teaching resource for all new HR Investigator hires. If a SSN does not verify, there is a name hit (even if other information does not match) and/or the job applicant lists all previous employers as “supervisor no longer there,” prudence requires follow up and additional research by a team of HR Investigators.

For more information about First Contact HR’s background screening services and human resources consulting solutions, please call 267-419-1390 or email us at client.services@firstcontacthr.com

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An Inside Look at Properly Conducting a Background Check (Part 1)

00013790In 2014, nearly 90% of all employers performed some sort of background screening on potential job applicants.[1]  The industry really began booming after 9/11 in an effort to, among other things, ensure workplace safety and protect companies from lawsuits for negligent hiring. Unfortunately, many background screening companies are transactional in nature and work within a “big box” mentality, which leads to increased quantity of screens but with a decreased quality review and follow-up.  Recently, one of these larger background screening companies was successfully sued for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), having misidentified an individual on two separate occasions as a convicted felon. Because of these mistakes, that individual lost two job opportunities.  According to court documents, the large screening company failed to follow its own procedures pertaining to persons with common names and failed to implement a practice with respect to individuals previously misidentified. The background investigators also failed to utilize publicly available information which would have led them to discover that – in one instance – the man they identified as the job applicant was actually in jail at the time the actual applicant applied for the position.  Although this individual won in court and received a hefty award from the jury, the outcome of similar situations is often times less satisfying, and the burden unfortunately falls on the job applicant to “clear his good name.”

Here’s an inside look at properly conducting an employment background check by an HR Investigator at a reputable background screening firm.

Upon running a criminal background check with a name and date of birth provided by the job applicant, a serious sex offense was discovered. However, the names did not match up and the middle initial of the job applicant matched only the first name of the convicted sex offender. Additional research led the HR Investigator to discover several alias names, one of which matched the applicant, with a matching date of birth.  The sex offender registry listed an address that, although similar, did not match with the information the applicant provided.  Rather than giving up, the HR Investigator grew resourceful. She forwarded a copy of the sex offender’s photo from the registry website to the client and asked them to confirm whether it was their applicant or not. Sure enough, the convict and the job applicant were the same person.  These extra steps positively identified a rapist who went out of his way to avoid detection, including providing an invalid zip code. Had the HR Investigator run the sex offender search and nothing more, this applicant’s record would have been returned as clean, and the client may have made a hiring decision without critical information about the applicant’s character and past crimes. This situation can easily happen when background checks are run by inexperienced in-house staff, or when the background screening firm relies totally on technology to push data to its clients or end users without properly reviewing the results.

Our advice to employers is simple: properly conducting the background screening PROCESS is critical. A bad hire can lead to theft, violence, high turnover, or unqualified staff. If information is simply pushed through in an effort to add one more transaction to the company books, without any quality control measures, you may want to get yourself a good lawyer… or a better background screening company.




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Affirmative Action Plan: Is Your Organization Required to Have One?

Recent news of the United States Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action ruling sheds light on the importance of having an Affirmative Action Plan which adheres to the legal requirements set forth over 5 decades ago.  In a 5-3 decision, the Court upheld a race-based affirmative action policy of the University of Texas at Austin.  Abigail Fisher, a Caucasian woman, sued the school over what she deemed to be racial discrimination after she was denied admissions to the school in 2008.

The University’s admissions protocol consists of a two-pronged approach: 75% of the student body is filled with public high school students who finish in the top 10% of their graduating class, while the remaining 25% of seats are filled based on a number of factors, one of which is race. This Top Ten Rule is known as a “holistic” approach to admissions decisions.  Their policy is meant to increase black and Hispanic admissions at the University, which historically were lacking.

Based on her academics, Abigail Fisher did not qualify for admissions under the 10% rule, making it necessary for her to compete for the limited number of enrollment slots remaining.  Ultimately, she was not accepted into the University.

What is the Goal of Affirmative Action?

Although Affirmative Action in the area of education, which is aimed at student enrollment, differs from employment-related Affirmative Action, aimed at hiring and employment practices, the intent of both is the same: to ensure certain protected classes receive an equal opportunity for consideration in education and employment and, in the case of employment, an equal chance to advance in the organization.

Who Needs a Written Affirmative Action Plan?

Government contractors and subcontractors with at least 50 employees, and a government contract of $50,000 or more, are required to have a written plan that is updated annually. The applicable laws cover minorities and women,[1] veterans[2] and people with disabilities.[3] Additionally, a financial institution that is a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) must comply with Affirmative Action laws.[4]

Who Enforces Affirmative Action Regulations?

The United States Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) oversees and enforces the obligations of affirmative action and equal opportunity programs required for those organizations doing business with the federal government.  The OFCCP has the power to conduct audits on organizations required to have an Affirmative Action Plan in place, obtain Conciliation Agreements from those in violation of regulatory requirements, and recommend enforcement action(s) to the Solicitor of Labor. Penalties for non-compliance may include monetary penalties, including back wages to applicants negatively impacted, and/or debarment.  Companies who are debarred lose the right to hold federal government contracts in the future.

How First Contact HR Can Keep Your Organization Compliant?

Our Affirmative Action specialists can create a custom Plan for your organization that meets all the necessary legal requirements.  We can update your Plan annually and accomplish all of these goals while offering a competitive price and accessibility to our Affirmative Action Team for any questions or support needs.  Please contact us today to get started!

[1] Executive Order 11246 on Nondiscrimination under Federal Contracts, Subpart B, Sec. 202(1)

[2] Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended.

[3] Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.

[4] 41 CFR 60-1.3; 41 CFR 60-250.2; 60-300.2; 60-741.2

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Workplace Violence: Strategies For Surviving An Imminent Threat

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the current best practice in the event of an active threat at work is RUN, HIDE, FIGHT.  When preventative measures fail to thwart a violent situation on the job, the following guidelines could prove critical to getting yourself, and your staff, out alive.

RUN – If you can get out, get out! Assist others along the way, but do so only if it does not put you in further danger.  Leave your stuff behind (unless it is immediately available) and go to your EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN’s evacuation route or designated exit.  Once you are clear from danger, prevent others from walking into the danger, and then call 911.  Your EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN should contain rally points (safe locations) where you and your staff can meet should an incident take place. This allows you to take an inventory of your staff and ensure everyone is accounted for.

HIDE – If you cannot run, then hide.  Find a location where you’re not likely to be found and silence your phone.  If you are able to call 911 during this time, do so.  Even if you cannot speak to the operator, simply calling and leaving the call active will alert authorities to your approximate location.  Stay calm and quiet.  If you are able to lock yourself in an office or other secure area, do so.  Do not open the door for anyone except the authorities.  It is important to stay away from interior windows as well.  During safety drills at schools, police advise students and teachers to stay out of sight of those interior windows which look into classrooms.  The same holds true for workplaces. If a threat sees people through a window, he will see potential victims, and the violence may escalate.  Understanding the difference between cover and concealment is also critical.  Concealment means hiding and staying out of sight.  Cover means placing a barricade between yourself and the danger (like bullets, for example).  Situational awareness is important in understanding what objects may prove useful barriers, and what will do nothing to protect you from injury. And finally, when you are hiding, prepare for the worst – which means – be ready to fight.

FIGHT – If you are confronted with a situation where you may wind up seriously injured or killed, you should fight.  The goal here is to physically harm the threat.  Law enforcement recommends aiming for “soft spots”; groin, face, eyes, etc, and using improvised weapons; chairs, box cutters, letter openers, and anything else that would hurt the person or slow them down.  If you are carrying a gun, exercise caution when deciding whether to use it.  You don’t want the intruder to get his hands on it, you don’t want to inadvertently shoot an innocent bystander, and you don’t want the police to mistake you for a threat when they arrive.  If you are able to harm and incapacitate the intruder, first ensure you’re safe, and then call 911.  Speak clearly and calmly, and provide the location of the incident, and location and description of the intruder.  You may also want to provide information about victims or injuries.

Two considerations in handling the aftermath of workplace violence:

  1. When the first responders arrive, they may very well ignore the injured.  Their first priority is assuring the intruder is neutralized.  Rest assured, EMS and other medical care will arrive and assist those who are hurt.  Try to stay out of the first responders’ way, and if they approach you for information, be prepared to help them; and
  2. Your place of business will be considered a crime scene.  Depending on the severity of the incident, this may last for a day, weeks, or even months.  Keep this in mind when creating your company’s EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN.  You may want to have contingencies in place for alternate work locations.  Instruct your staff to never try to return to the scene to retrieve belongings without asking the authorities first.  They will probably require an escort, or may be barred from entry altogether.

Remember that workplace violence can happen to any company at any time.  According to a study conducted by the FBI[1], between 2000 and 2013, 40 out of 50 states experienced an active shooter incident.  There were 160 active shooter incidents in this country during that same 14 year time frame.  In 16 of those incidents, the violence occurred at more than one location.  An average of 11.4 Active Shooter incidents occur annually (Sandy Hook Elementary is one terrifying example of this).  These incidents are on the rise; the first 6.4 incidents during the FBI’s study happened in the first 7 years, while 16.4 occurred during the last 7 years.The first shot or instance of aggression is almost always directed at the perpetrator’s spouse or other family member, and 60% of violent incidents are over before the police even arrive on the scene.

While these numbers are startling and scary, there are ways to prevent, prepare, and take action if your place of business is a victim of workplace violence.

First Contact HR is a full-service background screening company that provides pre-employment background checks, employee background checks, drug screening, education and employment verifications, and many other services that may assist in keeping your workplace safe.  For more information, please call our office at 267-419-1390, or visit our website at www.firstcontacthr.com.



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Recording Clear and Legible Ink Fingerprints

The tips of our fingers are covered with tiny, swirling ridges and valleys that make up an individual imprint. These ridges form an exclusive pattern to each individual on the planet and are even more unique than DNA. Because these impressions are so individualized, they are globally used as a form of identification.
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Star Wars: 4 Tips to Avoid the Dark Side of Hiring

In celebration of the much awaited movie, titled “The Force Awakens,” we have decided to release a special Star Wars themed blog on hiring practices. If you have been awake during the past twelve months, chances are you’re heard about the new Star Wars movie coming out on December 18, 2015. This will be great news for loyal fans, and perhaps useless chatter for anyone who has avoided the movie series.

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PA Act 153 Amendments

Recently, the PA general assembly passed legislation aimed at providing relief to colleges and universities required to comply with the Act 153 background check requirements. The bill (HB 1276) passed the House with a vote of 190-5. It was ratified by the Senate with a unanimous vote.

The new language removes the background check requirement for employees of higher education whose direct contact with children is limited to either (A) prospective students visiting a campus, or (B) matriculated students who are enrolled at the institution. The bill also limits the need for background checks to only those on the administrative staff who have; routine interaction (i.e, “regular and repeated contact that is integral to a person’s employment or volunteer responsibilities”), and direct contact, with children. These changes remove the background check requirement for the majority of the faculty and staff at colleges and universities.

However, background checks are still required for any employee of a college or university if that individual is in direct contact with a student who is enrolled in a secondary school. This measure is intended to protect children who are in dual enrollment programs and concurrently attend high school while taking college courses. Also, background checks are still required for any college employee who has direct contact with children at summer youth camps or other youth oriented programs.

The effective date for volunteers to get certifications has been extended to August 25th 2015, and the re-certification for background checks has been increased from every three years to every five years.


First Contact HR’s Recommendation:

Because these changes come amidst colleges already going through screening practices that may now be extraneous – we would advise colleges and universities to continue to background check the majority of their employees in order to keep their institutions safe. Parents of children going off to college will feel more at ease knowing that the school they have chosen did more than the bare-minimum with regard to their students’ well-being. Keeping up to date with background checks on all employees is still the best practice, and with the recent fee reductions it is now more affordable to ensure the school’s staff is fully vetted.

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PA Waives ACT 153 Background Screening Fees for Volunteers

This year has seen a fair amount of change around background screening laws for schools in Pennsylvania with the introduction of ACT 153. According to the legislation that took effect in January, everyone whose work could involve contact with children has to undergo a background screening clearance. This goes for anyone working in, or for, schools – including volunteers. While on the surface this is legislation is on target with better protecting the children within the state, it adds a huge financial burden on institutions and individuals.

Since the law was passed last October, there have been concerns raised with legislators about cost to volunteers. Many believe the cost is prohibitive, unfair and potentially deter people from volunteering. For these reasons, Governor Tom Wolf announced two weeks ago that changes to the law would be made to ease the burden on people looking to volunteer at schools. According to Wolf, starting on July 25th 2015, the fees for the child abuse history clearance and the statewide criminal background check will be waived for volunteers who work with children.

Additionally, the Department of Human Services and PA state police will be reducing the cost of child abuse clearances and criminal background checks by 20% for all other applicants (down to $8 from $10). The aim with these changes is to ease the cost burden on those who are now required to have these screens done every 36 months.

Gov. Wolf stated in the news release last Wednesday, “My action today could not have been accomplished without the hard work of the General Assembly, who has participated in an ongoing bipartisan working group with the Administration in an effort to develop needed clarifications to the Child Protective Services Law … Through that process, the General Assembly expressed concerns of many members about the cost of background clearances, particularly for volunteers. I share those concerns, and that is why I am excited to announce these actions today.”

The new policy does not affect the cost of FBI background checks required for people who haven’t lived in the state continuously for 10 years and work with children. The full cost of $27.00 for the federal checks will still apply to volunteers and employees alike.

For more information about clearances required under the Child Protective Service Law, head to www.keepskidssafe.pa.gov. For more information about PA Act 153, you can read about it on our blog.


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The Implications of Pennsylvania Act 153 for Higher Education Employment

A new year means new laws and with the coming of 2015, Pennsylvania has rung in more measures to keep our children safe. Act 153 which took effect January 1st is the newest piece of legislation with the goal of protecting students at school. The law begins by extending the definition of “school” to include all public and private secondary and tertiary institutions and also extends the list of employees to be screened to include unpaid volunteers who have direct contact with children or routine interaction with children (i.e. provide the care, supervision, guidance, or control of).

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