2 Concerning Employment Screening Practices

employment screening practicesHanding over your background checks to a third party does not release you from liability when background checks go awry. Hiring a background screening company, a.k.a. Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), is intended to help your business by enabling better hiring decisions and easing the compliance process. However, not all CRAs take that responsibility as seriously as they should. Two practices, in particular, can spell trouble for both the CRA and you.

Think about this: If an applicant or employee misses out on a job opportunity because your CRA reported inaccurate or un-reportable information – an expunged criminal record, for example – that individual will look first to you, the hiring company, for accountability.  Similarly, candidates whose personal identifying information (PII) is put in jeopardy because your CRA offshored their data will likely try to hold you responsible.

As an employer, you need to know about these 2 critical employment screening practices:

Concerning Practice #1: Relying on “Nationwide” Criminal Records

Often sold as “instant nationwide criminal database searches”, these records are far from what they seem. While certainly saving CRAs the time and expense of having to search the nation’s more than 3,000 county courts by hand, they are far from an end-all-be-all search of the criminal records system. Unfortunately, this quick and inexpensive data has shortcomings that your CRA must know how and have practices in place to deal with.

National criminal databases are not entirely “national”

By far the greatest weakness of the national database check is that it does not include every jurisdiction in the country. Some states do not provide any court information for the databases and in many cases, records are limited in the amount and type of reliable data they provide.

Databases are snapshots

The information contained in national databases is sourced from ever-changing court records and likely to differ from these records until the next scheduled update. The accuracy of the records – those that are included in the database – is predicated entirely by the business processes and database management practices of the provider and the frequency of updates jurisdiction, by jurisdiction.

They are a good “first step”

National criminal records are not all bad. In fact, they are an essential and extremely helpful tool for facilitating the criminal records research process. Responsible CRAs use the information gathered at the national database level as an indicator for where to look in a more detailed local-level court records search.  The authoritative source is the local court level, not the national database.

The national records can direct you toward more detailed searches at the local level by identifying places where your applicant or employee could have a criminal record. Appropriate follow-up at the local jurisdiction is a necessary step in the screening process.

Ask about your CRA’s practices and avoid the promise of “instant” results

Relying solely on a national criminal background check to determine an employee’s criminal history may lead you to make a hiring decision based on inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated criminal records.  CRAs should absolutely use a national database search, but only as a guide to the authoritative local source.

Concerning Practice #2: Offshoring PII

Background screening companies can reduce costs and undercut the competition by outsourcing some or all of their employment screening activities to overseas suppliers. They are not obligated to disclose this practice, which means that you, your employees, and your job applicants may never know that personally identifiable information  has been transmitted beyond the protection of national borders.

Offshored PII is vulnerable, unprotected… and cheap

The process of overseas outsourcing may include the transmission of social security numbers, financial account information, and more for those individuals undergoing a background investigation. Once such data has left the U.S., it is no longer covered by consumer protection and privacy laws, such as GLBA, HIPPA, and FCRA. Even more concerning is the fact that, once stolen, such sensitive PII is alarmingly inexpensive for others to purchase. For example, a major fake I.D. ring in Puerto Rico was recently taken down by the ICE and it was discovered that the group sold hundreds of birth certificates, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses for up to $2,500 a set as part of a black market ring based in Puerto Rico, according to ICE Director John Morton.

What to ask your CRA about Offshoring:

If you’re unsure about how your CRA handles the processing of personal information, ask these three questions:

  1. For domestic background checks, do you send data outside the U. S. or its territories for processing or preparation of a background report or for any other reason?  (The answer should be no.)
  2. For international background checks do you avoid sending PII to anyone other than the actual verification source (i.e. employer or school registrar)?  (The answer should usually be no.) If not, do you have practices in place to verify and vet the credibility of the local firm? (The answer should be yes.)
  3. If using third parties to perform services related to domestic or international background checks do you have practices to ensure those parties adhere to these same safety standards? (The answer should be yes.)

Many CRAs have committed themselves to the responsible use of criminal records and no PII off-shoring. Protect yourself, your applicants, and your employees by ensuring your provider takes these responsibilities seriously.


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About MichaelGaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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