In 2014, nearly 90% of all employers performed some sort of background screening on potential job applicants. 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.