Why do you lock your home every time you leave it? Most likely, you do it to keep thieves out. Since you haven’t experienced any thefts, why continue to lock up?

Okay, you’re probably shaking your head and thinking that I must not be all that bright. You keep locking your door because you don’t want to create an opening for the thieves. Even though you’ve been fortunate, if you leave the door unlocked, sooner or later the wrong person is going to get in your house.

Then help me understand what I’ve seen many companies do over the years. They establish a program of background screening for employees, paying a fee to have each new employee screened. After some time, they notice that they’re not getting much negative information through the screening process, decide that it’s not worth the investment, and stop the screenings.

Of course, the next employee they hire may be a convicted embezzler. Perhaps a petty thief. Maybe even someone who was convicted of a sex crime or a violent act. They’ll never know, because they decided to drop their guard.

The reality is that most people don’t have a criminal record. Sex offenders and violent criminals make up tiny percentages of the overall population. That means the likelihood that the new employee you’re considering falls into one of those categories is small. But let me ask you a question: how many sex offenders or violent criminals are you willing to tolerate on your payroll? Is five too many? Three? Even one?

When you’re talking about security, whether that involves background screenings or locked doors, you can never afford to let your guard down. As soon as you do, you create an opportunity for bad people to see an opening and take advantage of it. Why do you think some companies’ job solicitations mention that they perform drug testing of prospective employees? They’re sending a warning to drug users that they aren’t welcome in the company. Mentioning that you’ll perform background screenings sends a similar message to people who have difficulty obeying the law.

(Most of the time, anyway. You’d be surprised how often an applicant we screen for one of our clients tells us that he or she was surprised to learn that we discovered past arrests or convictions. They assumed nobody could find them, so they applied for the job.)

Never letting your guard down also means screening everyone equally, even if you feel that you know them well or they seem to have a trustworthy background. We’ve seen cases where, for example, a school district didn’t think they needed to screen a volunteer who was a police officer, reasoning that a cop must be okay. In my past career as a detective, I put several police officers in jail. Cops are humans, too, and sometimes they make bad decisions. You can’t assume that someone wearing a badge automatically deserves a halo.

Another aspect of never letting your guard down is screening employees only when they’re first hired. Wise companies perform background checks of existing employees, too. Some set up a system through which every employee is screened every three or four years. Others set up a random pool, much as companies do with drug testing. You may think that Bob’s a great guy and a trustworthy worker, but you may not realize that Bob has developed an addiction to gambling that he supports with small crimes, or that he and his wife are estranged and he’s been stalking her. An ongoing screening program can help you spot security problems before your employees are hurt or assets disappear.

Your approach to security is a key element of your company’s culture. It’s not just about catching bad guys and gals, and keeping them from getting hired. It’s not just about protecting your assets. Security is primarily about making sure your employees feel that they’re in a safe workplace, where you’ve protected them from potential threats. When workers feel safer, they tend to be more loyal and productive, and less prone to stress. An effective screening program is both a deterrent and a safety net.

Don’t let a lack of problems up until now lull you into a false sense of security. Letting down your guard is an invitation for bad things to happen. Instead, make security a priority, with clearly defined policies. Then apply those policies fairly and consistently. You’ll feel safer. More important, you’ll actually be safer.

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

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