Background Checks–A Lesson in Reading Tea Leaves

employment screening

Reading the Tea Leaves

This morning, the Today Show’s investigative reporter, Jeff Rossen, revealed once again the pitfalls of cutting corners when it comes to conducting employee background checks.  In his report, Jeff highlighted the plight of several prospective employees who were denied positions because the firms hired to conduct their background checks failed to use reasonable procedures to vet the information they retrieved.

Unfortunately for US employers, there is no central location they can check to determine if a prospect has a criminal record.  To obtain a “national criminal record check,” a search must be conducted at the federal, state, county, and if warranted, municipal, levels for every place the prospect ever lived, worked, visited or vacationed.  No employer would incur the cost to conduct such a search (nor could it given the need for the prospect to divulge his/her life’s itinerary).

Instead, employers often rely upon database searches as an alternative to conducting a thorough manual background check.  The trade-off is that while such research is cost and time efficient, the databases often link erroneous dates of births, crimes and litigation matters to individuals with similar names and social security numbers.  Until a human being takes a moment to analyze the data and compare it to what was provided by the prospect, as well as comparing it to other pieces of independently developed information about the prospect, the type of misinformation described in Rossen’s report will continue to be conveyed to the employer.  Background checks are an art form, not a mouse click.

Practice Tip:  If your firm must rely upon database searches for budgetary reasons, ask the prospective employee for a 10 year address history.  Use it to compare it to the results from your background check firm.  If crimes are listed on the report in states the prospect did not live, question your vendor—demand they check with the courthouse directly.