First Contact HR - Background Screening, Human Resource Solutions

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First Contact HR - Background Screening & Human Resource Solutions


firstcontact-faqs-rightDo you have questions about common background screening or human resource practices?

Check out the questions and answers below or ask us a question by emailing
 info AT FirstContactHR DOT com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Why pre-screen?

Employers have become painfully aware of the tremendous consequences of bad hiring decisions. Pre-screening promotes safe and profitable workplace. Pre-employment screening is an effective risk management tool that has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of a bad hire. Employers typically engage in pre-employment screening for four reasons:

To discourage applicants with something to hide--just having a pre-screening program discourages job applicants with a criminal background or falsified credentials.

To eliminate uncertainty in the hiring process--many employers have discovered the hard way that relying on instinct alone is not enough. Hard information is also an important part of the hiring process.

To demonstrate Due Diligence--all employers have a reasonable duty of care in the hiring process. That means an employer must take reasonable steps to determine whether an employee is fit for a particular job. For example, an employer who hires a bus driver could be found liable if that driver assaults a passenger, and a reasonable background check would have disclosed prior assaults during a criminal records research process.

To encourage honesty in the application and interview process--Employers find that just having a background program will encourage applicants to be more forthcoming about their history.

Performing background screenings is certainly not a guarantee that every bad applicant will be discovered. For the prices charged by pre-screening firms, employers cannot expect an in-depth and exhaustive FBI type investigation. However, just engaging in a screening program demonstrates due diligence and provides an employer with a great deal of legal protection.

It is also important to understand that a pre-screening program is aimed at how a person has performed in the public aspect of their lives. Items such as a criminal records or previous job performance reflects how a person behaved towards others, or discharged their obligations and responsibilities. Screening is NOT an invasion of privacy, a sign of mistrust or an act of "Big Brother."

Why should a firm outsource this service?

Pre-employment screening is a time consuming and detailed task that requires highly specialized knowledge and resources. It is also subject to numerous legal regulations. Many firms have found that it is an inefficient use of their time and resources to attempt to perform a service that a specialist can do efficiently and cost-effectively.

Even firms with fully staffed Human Resources or Security departments have found that outsourcing this service is more efficient and allows them to focus on tasks that can only be performed inside the company. Many HR and Security professionals also prefer that a new employee's first contact with their department not be a background check. Also, outsourcing this service does not leave a new employee feeling that confidential information about them is being obtained by others in the firm.

What laws govern the collection and use of the information you make available?

The FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) is the law that allows the applicant to have a copy of our reports and to challenge it's accuracy. The EEOC regulations allow you to pre-screen applicants, but prohibits you from hiring decisions based on sex, age, race, etc.

It may be legal to get this information about a job applicant, but is it legal to use it to make a hiring decision?

Absolutely! Misstatements on an application are grounds for dismissal of an employee or denying an applicant. In fact, if you hire a dangerous or unqualified person into a position where they could harm others, and a reasonable inquiry would have revealed that information, you can be held liable for the employee's acts.

What happens if I get a candidate for a job who has an excellent resume and has other job offers and I can't wait for a background check?

Hire that person contingent upon a successful background check. If you find that the person made misstatements on their application or resume, that is grounds for dismissal. Remember that our Applicant Consent Form is your first line of defense. If they know that you are going to verify information they are much less likely to misrepresent themselves.

Why must I have the applicant's permission to do a background search?

Simply stated, it's the law. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act governs background searches, and violations of this act can have serious legal ramifications. In this situation, the FCRA was designed to protect the individual consumer and his/her privacy.

An applicant tests positive for drugs and claims there must be a mistake. Should I allow him to have a second drug screen?

Under no circumstances should an applicant / employee be allowed to have a 'new' specimen collected when they claim 'the lab made a mistake'. If the Chain of Custody is intact, there is virtually no room for error. Keep this in mind: these tests are highly structured, federally regulated, sophisticated procedures. A mistake is not likely. There are other options available at this point: re-confirming the original specimen; transporting the specimen to a lab for testing; or the services of a Medical Review Officer.

How long do drugs stay in an individual's system?

Drugs do not typically remain in the body for very long. Often no more than 24 - 72 hours, depending on the frequency of use and the individual's body functions. Marijuana is the exception, staying sometimes from several days to several weeks, again depending on the circumstances. However, through hair analysis, drugs are detectable up to 90 days after drug use.

What happens to the specimen when someone tests positive?

When a specimen tests positive, it is automatically scheduled to be processed at a certified laboratory to confirm the presence of the drug in question. If this sample is confirmed positive, then the balance of the specimen is stored under strict laboratory procedures for future needs. It is held under refrigerated conditions for at least six months.

Should I fire an individual for having a positive result?

Every company has different policies. Some find termination as the only answer for a positive drug screen, as drug use is an immediate breach of company policy. On the other hand, many companies now offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), which include drug and alcohol counseling and treatment.

Isn't marijuana just a recreational drug?

Marijuana today can have 22 times the potency (THC content) that Marijuana did in the late '60s. It is retained in the fatty tissue of the body for several days and it can cause impairment long after the 'high' wears off.

We do pre-employment screening. Is it important for my company to do other drug testing?

Absolutely. Pre-employment screening is only effective in discovering hard-core abusers; those who cannot abstain for a short period of time while they look for work. The only effective way to truly make your place of employment drug-free is to include in your drug policy the stipulation that you reserve the right to test for a variety of recognized specific situations. See Types of Drug Screening elsewhere on this site. Be aware that some states limit or forbid the use of certain types of drug screening.

What is a chain of custody and why is it important?

This is the detailed documentation of the drug screening process, which accounts for the integrity of each step of the procedure, by tracking the handling and storage of the specimen from collection to disposal. This multi-part medical document, with assigned barcode numbers, facilitates the process and documents by whom, when and for what purpose the specimen was handled. Clinical labs will not proceed with a drug screen if they recognize the chain of custody has been broken. With a fully executed Chain of Custody, the drug screen result is completely and legally defensible.

What is the difference between laboratories?

There can be a multitude of differences, but the most important is whether or not it is a certified lab. While not required in the private sector, it is highly advisable and more defensible in terms of a legal standpoint to use a certified laboratory. Drug testing laboratories can be certified by:

1. The US Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS), also known as SAMHSA (formerly NIDA);
2. The College of American Pathology; and
3. Many state health departments.

What are NIDA and SAMHSA?

SAMHSA stands for Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. NIDA stands for National Institute for Drug Abuse. These are federal bureaus that create and administer public policies and standards where drug and alcohol issues are involved. The cutoff levels for drug screening are set by SAMHSA, and only laboratories that meet SAMHSA certification requirements are utilized by HR First Contact.

What is the difference between a 5-panel screen and a 10-panel screen?

The collection procedure and screening process are identical. The difference is the number of drugs for which the specimen is screened.
Amphetamines Amphetamines
Cocaine Metabolites Cocaine Metabolites
Marijuana Metabolites Marijuana Metabolites
Opiates Opiates
Phencyclidine (PCP) Phencyclidine (PCP)

What exactly is 'low creatinine' in a drug test?

Low Creatinine indicates a specimen is below minimum concentrate levels, and therefore the results are not conclusive. Also known as a 'dilute' specimen, it has a creatinine reading less than 20 mg/dL, but greater than 5 mg/dL, and a specific gravity less than 1.003, but greater than 1.001.

What is an adulterated specimen and do you screen for that?

Adulteration screening is standard in our drug screens. It screens for the presences of nitrites, a chemical purchased for the distinct purpose of adulterating the specimen to obscure the presence of drugs. Although it might be successful in obscuring drugs, the nitrites themselves are detectable and can be considered a 'positive' drug screen; and therefore employment decisions can be made based on that 'confirmed positive.' Nitrites are not a personality-altering substance, nor addictive.

What is the difference between a 'diluted' specimen, a 'substituted' specimen and an 'adulterated' specimen?

A 'diluted' specimen is when an individual has either intentionally ingested high levels of liquid or added a liquid to the collected specimen in order to decrease the concentration of the specimen. If a specimen is sufficiently diluted, it makes it difficult for the lab to identify any drugs that might be present. Specifically, a diluted specimen has a creatinine reading less than 20 mg/dL, but greater than 5 mg/dL, and a specific gravity less than 1.003, but greater than 1.001.

A 'substituted' specimen is when something other than human urine has been submitted as the candidate's collected sample. Simply stated, such specimens do not exhibit the clinical signs or characteristics associated with normal urine. Specifically, a substituted specimen has a creatinine of less than or equal to 5mg/dL and a specific gravity less than or equal to 1.001 or greater than or equal to 1.020.

An 'adulterated' specimen is when an individual has introduced a foreign substance into the collected sample to intentionally disguise drugs in the urine. There are numerous products on the market, such as Klear, that are very easily bought on the Internet and have been designed for just this purpose. Specifically, an adulterated specimen is when the nitrite concentration is equal to or great than 500 cg/mL.

Where do I find the special requirement and laws for each state, concerning drug screening?

Obviously, your state bar association can lead you to many publications and sources that will answer this need. You might also want to contact the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, which offers many publications dealing with state and federal drug testing laws, as well as many other drug testing topics. Their website address is

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