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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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 For more information about PA Act 153, you can read about it on our blog.


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Do Background Checks Contribute to Unemployment?


With the unemployment rate under constant review, one of the most important questions being asked is: “what factors are causing unemployment?”

Gaining occasional attention is the notion of background checks leading to higher unemployment since they can bar applicants with a criminal record from landing a job.

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Discovery of Sex Offenders Employed in Theme Parks Sparks Need for Stronger Background Checks

iStock_000015651642SmallSince 2006 at least 40 employees of national theme parks have been arrested for trying to elicit sex from minors, possessing child pornography, and committing other sex crimes involving children. These child predators worked at parks such as Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. While none of these cases involved the children visiting these supposedly child friendly parks, these potentially dangerous employees put the safety of visiting children at risk.

This pattern of theme parks hiring employees with a history of committing child sex crimes is shocking and disturbing. Recently, 16 sex predators, some of which being theme park employees, were caught in a Florida sex sting operations. But how do these predators even become employed at children’s parks?

Disney World Spokesperson, Jacquee Wahler maintains that Disney works “closely with law enforcement and organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children” in order to strengthen efforts against hiring sex predators. She also states that they “have extensive measures in place, including pre-employment and ongoing criminal background checks and computer monitoring and firewalls.” Universal Studios and SeaWorld also described having thorough background checks. Still, despite these attempts, some sex offenders manage to get hired.

Ernie Allen, co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, speculates that this may be because most child predators don’t have criminal records. However, he points out that there is more that companies can do to prevent hiring sex predators. For instance, in the future, these companies could perform more diligent sex offender registry research and sex offender background checks in addition to their general pre-employment and background checks. By strengthening their pre-employment research and background checks, theme parks can avoid this disastrous scandal in the future.


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Philadelphia Eagles Player Targeted in Bank Fraud Scheme

Ed Hille/

A Philadelphia Eagles player was the victim of theft by a person he trusted – an employee of a security firm. Late last month, Eagles offensive lineman, Todd Herremans made news headlines, but not for an Eagles victory. A 37-year-old man named Robert von Ryan is charged with bank fraud, allegedly stealing more than $225,000 from Herremans’ bank account.

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Government Shutdown and its Impact on HR

For the first time in 17 years, portions of the united states government are closed as the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White house were unable to reach an agreement to fund the federal government for the 2014 fiscal year.

While the affects of this government shutdown are broad and far reaching, the main cause for concern for human resource professionals should be that a number of government organizations such as; e-verify, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), have been either shutdown or severely limited.

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Failed Employment Screening in Washington Navy Yard Shooting

Former navy reservist and contractor, Aaron Alexis opened fire at the Washington D.C. navy base where he worked, killing 13 people. With no pre-written note or additional suspects to interview, investigators now search for answers while others are left wondering the inevitable questions, how and why.

On Monday, September 16 the navy computer technician drove his car onto the base, walked to building 197 and entered with his work-issued security card to open the door, carrying with him a black bag. He would then carryout his attack in the atrium of that building.

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