Erroneous Employee Background Checks Harm Innocent People

employee-background-checksI was enjoying breakfast as a new board member with the team from Outreach, a ministry that equips and empowers teens to exit street life, when I was asked, “Did you see the article in the paper this morning?” I had to admit I had slept in and skipped the morning news and newspaper (not a bad thing). As soon as I got home, I jumped online and read the article:  When You’re Criminal Past Isn’t Yours.

Well, my first reaction was absolutely no surprise.  Nothing in this article shocked me.  This is a battle I have been waging since I launched Safe Hiring Solutions.  The employee background checks war of quality, integrity and transparency vs. cheap, substandard and low quality.

My other reaction to the article was one of embarrassment.  Why?  Because we do not operate this way.  And I hate being painted with the same brush.  We believe that consumer protection is an integral part of a quality background check.

Don’t get me wrong, we find tremendous satisfaction when we expose a serious criminal record that protects our clients and the people they serve.  That is our core mission to help keep you safe.

However, I find it absolutely horrifying that so many people are mislabeled and denied employment because of cheap background checks.  That is not fair.  Not fair to the applicant and not fair to you as the potential employer.  And guess what, you are the first place they will turn when filing some form of legal action.

Yes, low quality employee background checks dominate the industry and harm innocent people.  I said it.  I mean it.  And I hate it.  It drives me absolutely bonkers to be grouped together with other screening firms that have no standard of care.

So what did the article say?  Primarily that there is a lot of junk data being wrapped up like a Christmas present and sold as a background check.  And that the biggest culprits are the database compilers.  Those companies that assemble criminal data and then resell it.

The article referenced a class action lawsuit against Hireright that alleges they did not respond appropriately to inaccurate information claims.  Allegedly a tentative settlement of $28.4 million dollars will be divided among 700,000 people (after attorneys take $9 million).

I believe so strongly in consumer protection that our staff ALWAYS verifies any possible criminal record with the court of record.  Daily we cross reference information from different sources to determine identity.  And we would NEVER report a criminal record from a database.

Why?  Well, first we know that the data is not reliable.  Databases are tools not screening programs.  We know that cases can be fluid even after a conviction.  There can be reductions from felonies to misdemeanors, post conviction relief, expungements, etc.

Yes, it is becoming more and more challenging to verify information as courts redact personal identifiers such as social security numbers, dates of birth and addresses out of a fear of identity theft (oddly it is leading to a huge increase in mislabeling by lazy screening firms which is creating a new form of identity crisis).

This is precisely why there is no such thing as an instant background check or a completely automated background check.  Do I need to repeat that?

When you remove “people” or “eyes” from the screening process it:

  • Significantly increases the likelihood of mislabeling a criminal record; and
  • Significantly increases the likelihood of missing a criminal record.

Do you like those odds?  I don’t.

The solution is that organizations must become more educated on the background screening industry and process.  There are high quality background screening firms that provide great protection to organizations and consumers alike.  This is how it should work.  It is ying and yang not ying or yang.

However, selecting the right screening firm can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  You must apply due diligence to your selection process.  You need to cut through the smoke screens, sexy technology and low pricing appeals and ask some questions.

The most important question you must ask is “What are we more interested in, safety and security or speed and low price?”  Your answer will drive your selection.

If you are most interested in speed and low price, then your road ahead will be bumpy.  And people will be hurt by mislabeling or violence.

If you answered safety and security, then you should check out these 10 things to know before hiring a background screening firm.  Let a quality screening firm filter the information and protect you and your candidates.  It really isn’t rocket science, just a commitment to doing background screening right.

What are your thoughts?