What Would You Be Willing to Pay for an Employee Background Check?

employee background checkWould you say that $ 1 million would be too much for a background check?  I think the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York would agree, but that is what they paid for not doing a criminal background check. Pepsi Co. knows the feeling.  They recently paid $3.5 to settle EEOC discrimination claims.  The difference is Pepsi will never be accused of not doing enough.

Anita Collins was hired by the NY Archdiocese in 2003 for a finance position.  They did not conduct an employee background check.  Had they, it would have revealed a criminal record for grand larceny and a misdemeanor conviction for theft.

From 2003-2011, Collins carefully embezzled more than $1 million and used the money to pay her mortgage, buy expensive clothes and doll collections.  She created false invoices and was careful to make sure each payment was less than $2,500 so it did not require a supervisor’s approval.

Interestingly, the reaction from her colleagues is much the same as it always is.  Shock and surprise.  She was described as an “unassuming” person.  As somebody who prayed a lot.  As somebody  who was praised for her volunteer service at an event at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

What can we learn from this case?

  • Appearance is subjective and not a valid screening tool.  Looks mean nothing.  There is so much research on appearance and how that impacts interviews and hiring decisions.  Anita Collins did not have thief tattooed on her forehead.  The only way this is uncovered is through a comprehensive background screening program.  Looks do not reveal character or integrity, anybody remember Ted Bundy?
  • A small investment in a quality employee background check will save you in the long run.  A $30 criminal background check would have saved the NY Archdiocese $1 million.  Collins has a court appointed attorney and appears to have spent all the money which means no matter what the court outcome is, the Archdiocese will not be recovering their loss.
  • An Employment Credit Report might be a good tool for financial positions.   Would it have revealed anything with Collins?  Maybe.  An investigator with the D.A.’s office said she was definitely living above her “legal” means.  So if this was a life pattern, we would expect her credit history to reflect poor credit choices, late pays and potentially defaults.  All red flags for a financial position.

The simple lesson is that every organization from Fortune 500 companies to faith-based organizations must invest in a quality employee background check program.