Where Do You Stand on Employment Background Checks?

Recent news stories related to background checks leave many employers scratching their heads wondering where to stand on the issue. Perform background checks and you potentially open the door to claims of discrimination, as described in this Wall Street Journal article. Neglect to do them and you’re setting yourself up for what BP is now facing in its reported failure to perform background checks on contracted workers, one of whom who was later accused of raping a fellow employee (see this CNN story for details).

Each of these stories highlights the point we seem to repeat often throughout this blog: An employment background screening program must always balance the employer’s “need to know” with the fair employment rights of employees. The challenge is how to avoid discrimination while meeting the due diligence requirements the role or position requires. Clearly we can’t have it both ways. We can’t neglect to check the backgrounds of our workers, especially in sensitive positions, and we can’t use background checks in discriminatory ways.

But here’s another point: As an employer or HR manager, you’ve got to take a stand and be prepared to defend your decision to use employment background checks in the hiring process. If done properly, screening doesn’t have to be a situation of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. There IS a way to do it right for the organization and its employees.

How to Do Background Checks Right:

Doing background checks the right way means effectively balancing the needs of employers with the rights of candidates and employees. Employers who take liberties with the background screening process and create blanket policies, such as disqualifying any individual with any type of criminal history regardless of how that history may affect their job performance, are clearly in the wrong. On the other hand, employers who avoid screening all together risk creating an unsafe workplace where disaster is bound to strike.

Here are a few tips to help you perform employment screening the right way:

  • Create a background screening policy that addresses both the strategic business goals and risk tolerance of the organization. Ask yourself, how important is a safe workforce to your business? How much are you willing to gamble on the merit of your employees?
  • Consider the types of background checks to be performed at various levels within the organization. A corporate leader is typically screened to a higher standard than a call center associate by way of example.
  • Define the underlying methodology of the background screening process. The types of background checks you use should enable the organization to pass the “duty of care” test.
  • Create consistent standards for how the organization will handle the resulting background check reports. Each individual in a particular role should undergo the same background check with the same criteria.
  • Ensure your program adheres to all applicable local, state, and federal laws.

The fact is, when done correctly, background checks help employers make better hiring decisions. With screening, we can learn about the past behaviors and experiences of an individual in order to make informed predictions about how well an employee will perform inside our organization. We can build a safer, more qualified workforce, and establish the necessary duty of care that all employers must demonstrate.

Let us help you build and implement a successful employment screening program:

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For more information, read these related blog posts:

Considering Employee Criminal Background Checks? >

Adverse Action for Employment >

Understanding Criminal Background Checks for Employment >

Recent Scrutiny of Employment Screening: Unfair or Legitimate? >

Are National Criminal Background Checks Enough? >

Do your policies support fair employment for workers with criminal records? >

About Michael Gaul

A security industry professional since 1988, Michael has extensive expertise in the fields of human capital risk management, physical security, and background screening process management. Michael leads Proforma’s sales, marketing, and strategic customer relations efforts.
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