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With Background Checks, Instant Gratification Can Be Deadly

When it comes to doing employment background checks, most companies want to get the background information as quickly as possible, but with background checks, instant gratification can be deadly. Whenever you cut corners with a background check, the potential to omit valuable information or to obtain inaccurate information is substantially increased.



The number one reason that companies use employment background checks is to reduce risk.

  • Risk of lawsuits
  • Risk of harm to employees, customer or vendors
  • Risk to company assets (damage, theft, etc.)

If risk mitigation is the ultimate goal,┬ácompanies should certainly never rely on information that is likely to increase their risk, but many companies do this – and the worst part is, they’ve never been properly educated about background checks so they don’t even know that they are placing their company in harm’s way.

In the world of employment background checks, there are two primary sources of information that can reveal a person’s criminal history: the actual criminal record on file at the courthouse, and databases that contain criminal record information.

The criminal database solution seems very attractive because the information is revealed instantly (or very, very fast) and the price point for a criminal database search is extremely cheap, but sole reliance on this instant search product can lead to disaterous outcomes.

Unfortunately, there are no laws or regulations that require courts to share their criminal history information with databases. As a result, criminal databases do not contain all criminal records ever created; they may not contain complete criminal record information; and they may even implicate the wrong person because the record belongs to someone with the same name and date of birth as your candidate.

One of my clients called me on a Sunday afternoon (yes, we’re always here for our clients). They are a staffing agency, where time is always of the essence to place candidates quickly, and despite our most strenuous counsel urging them to include a county criminal search in their package, they only wanted a statewide criminal database search in their screening package and nothing else.

They received a “clean” report on a candidate and sent that candidate to a job site. A few weeks later, their client decided to hire the person full time and ran their own background check. The client discovered a felony record for physical violence and blew a gasket!

Turns out, the client’s screening package includes a county criminal search, which is a courthouse record search in the counties where the candidate has lived during the past seven years and the record was discovered at a court that does not share its records with criminal databases. Hmmm.

Our client explained the situation to us and told us they lost the account, but acknowledged that they should have followed our initial advice and asked us to update their screening package with a county criminal search.

This is just one of many stories that have been relayed to me from companies relying solely on criminal database searches. Others have denied employment based on information revealed from a criminal database search, and they did not give the candidate a chance to dispute the information (this is a step in the legally required adverse action process), which has led to multimillion dollar class action lawsuits.

Please find below a couple articles describing the risks associated with using criminal database searches as a stand-alone tool in trying to discover a person’s criminal history.

Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM ) Article

ABC News Article

The industry Best Practice for obtaining a person’s criminal history follows:

1) Find out which counties the applicant has lived in using the SSN Trace & Address History Search.

2) Conduct an in-person courthouse search (performed by an experienced court researcher) for criminal records in the applicant’s existing and past counties of residence.

3) Conduct criminal database searches to detect criminal activity in counties where the applicant has never lived.

4) Independently verify any criminal record “hits” returned from a database search by manually ordering the criminal record on file from the reporting jurisdiction.

Sole reliance on an inferior search product to save a little time and money can easily lead to bad hires, lost business and even costly litigation.

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