What you need to know about performing background screens

Posted by Guest Contributor

July 10, 2014

Make sure a background check doesn’t get in the way of a great hire. 

By P. Johnston


You’ve interviewed ten candidates and think you’ve finally found the perfect match for a job in your company.  You make the offer, she accepts, and the only remaining step is a background screen. But what if the screening company you’ve hired tells you she has a criminal record?

Uh oh. If handled incorrectly, the candidate could sue. Or you could end up screening out someone who would be a great fit. It’s a mistake for an employer to just fob off the screening process on a third party and not take responsibility for it. Here are some tips on dealing with background screens in the digital world:

  1. Hire an accredited screening company. Are you sitting down? All background screening companies make some mistakes. But the best ones take care to minimize errors and comply with legal requirements. Thanks to a lack of standards, there are lots of sketchy, fly-by-night operations that are less careful. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners has an accreditation process, so start by using a company that’s been screened by the screeners. Click on the following link to find out if the screening company you’re considering is accredited to help avoid the risk of getting background reports that omit criminal records, falsely tag people with records who don’t have them, and other screw-ups.
  2. Don't automatically rule out hiring someone with a record. Examine the findings. Why? You’d be surprised at the level of loyalty and work output that will come from someone who wants to turn their life around.  I once happily hired my ex-husband’s friend right out of jail. He made a dumb mistake while working on Wall Street, but he was skilled, eager and bordering on desperate. Additionally, just as when you hire vets or the handicapped, there are tax pluses and loyalty benefits. For the pros and cons of hiring people with criminal records, check out this helpful analysis.
  3. Make sure the screener checks original court records. Let’s saythe person you really want to hire was once arrested by the cops but the case was dismissed because she was innocent. The screeners’ report still might say your dream candidate has an arrest record. That’s because some screeners offer cheap background searches based on databases that aren’t updated regularly with information from the courts. It’s penny wise but pound foolish to use a screening company that doesn’t bother to look up court records. Do the due diligence in the process of hiring the screening company and entrusting them with background checks.
  4. Give job applicants a chance to dispute screening reports. If you’ve offered someone a job and a background check reveals a run-in with the law, you’re legally required to give them a chance to dispute the report before you withdraw the offer. Ignoring this step is one of the most common mistakes made by employers, says Sally Friedman, a lawyer for the Legal Action Center. Just last month, her group sued two New York City real estate companies and a screening company for not letting a job applicant clear up a bad mistake made by the screener.
  5. Above all, educate yourself. Even the savviest H.R. professionals and business executives can find the legal requirements for criminal background screening a little confusing. It’s not just a check box on a list; It’s also important to weigh a criminal record against all of the other factors involved in hiring decisions.

For good advice on both how to stay out of legal trouble and find great employees, check out this guidebook by the National H.I.R.E. Network and other experts.

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P. Johnston is a reputation and transition expert and frequent blogger for sites such as Huffington Post, Intent.com, Vividlife.com.  She works with private clients and organizations experiencing disruption to help them achieve their goals and ease transitions through difficult challenges. Follow her on Twitter at @PJPamela.





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Topics: Recruiting & Sourcing, HR & Benefits