Background Screening Shouldn't Be a One-Time Thing

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Most people have flaws, but a funny thing happens after companies hire them. They become perfect angels, incapable of doing anything illegal or immoral. Do you find that hard to believe? So do I.

But when you look at approach to background screening that’s used by those companies, post-hiring perfection is the only logical explanation. Before the companies hire new employees, they subject them to extensive background checks. Then, once they’re on the payroll, they’re never checked again.

So what happens when one of those trusted employees is picked up for shoplifting, a DUI, or even a sex crime? Nothing, if you don’t know about it. That’s the problem when companies limit background screening to pre-employment. If the employee is convicted of a crime -- even a serious or troubling crime -- down the road, the only way the employer will learn about it is if the employee owns up, and that’s something criminals tend to sidestep.

The issue has recently been in the news, as the Indiana General Assembly wants to ensure that school employees undergo background checks every few years, instead of just as a condition of hiring. We see the value. A couple years ago, we performed a background check on a candidate for a position with a school district, and it came back clear. He apparently didn’t get the job, because 30 days later, we performed a second background check when he applied with another district. We discovered that he had been arrested for child sexual solicitation a week after the first check. Had the first school district hired him, they would have had no idea.

Ongoing background checks are obviously important when dealing with vulnerable populations, such as children, senior citizens, and people with developmental disabilities. But they’re no less important when it comes to your employees. Would you want a male employee with a history of sex crimes or domestic violence working unsupervised among female employees? Beyond the ethical argument, there’s the fact that you could be sued for negligent retention if that employee commits some kind of act against another employee.

I believe most people are good, and our extensive experience with background checks bears that out. The vast majority of people have nothing in their past that raises eyebrows. But the simple truth is that things can happen in people’s lives that lead to changes in their behavior. Someone who has been scrupulously honest can become a reluctant thief after falling into a gambling addiction or substance abuse issues. Emotional trauma can lead someone’s life to spin out of control, causing them to make bad decisions. And sometimes, problems go undetected. For example, 80 percent of people arrested as sex offenders have no criminal history. It doesn’t mean they weren’t committing crimes before the arrest; it just means they hadn’t been caught yet.

If your company performs pre-employment background checks, you’ve taken an important step to protect your employees and assets. I’d recommend that you take the process to the next level by setting up a program of ongoing checks. The frequency depends on how closely you need to monitor employee behavior. If your employees are responsible for vulnerable people or have access to expensive assets, you may want to check them every couple years. For most positions, performing a recheck every four to five years will probably be sufficient.

Another benefit of an ongoing program is that it can have value as a deterrent. Just as random drug testing can dissuade an employee from dabbling in illegal substances, an ongoing background check program sends a message that if you do something wrong, we’re going to find out about it, and it may cost you your job.

You (or your background check partner) can set up some kind of automated process tied to employment anniversaries. The process can email employees, let them know they’re due for a check, and provide a deadline and a link to order the check. If employees are uneasy with the idea, remind them that you’re concerned about their security and want to make sure that nobody is a potential danger to their well-being.

Still hesitant? We’ve had several large employers ask us to develop recheck programs for their employees, and nearly every one of those programs has revealed information they didn’t know about employees. The results didn’t always warrant termination, but they led to tough conversations and perhaps a different level of supervision. Who on your team might be harboring a secret?

Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions.

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