Background Checks for Small and Medium Business Owners

Its becoming a familiar story in the news: a small or medium business owner hires a new employee, fails to perform a background check or check references, and only after a crime has been committed does the business find out about the employee’s serious criminal record. By then, it can be too late. 

Hiring a person with a criminal record can lead to workplace violence, theft, and embezzlement and business disruptions. And in some cases, the cost of hiring a criminal can mean financial ruin, the end of the business itself, or injury and even death for co-workers, customers or innocent bystanders. 

There are millions of small and medium businesses in America, and yet it is estimated that only a small amount take meaningful precautions to know exactly who they are hiring.  The problem of course is that an employer of any size has an obligation to take reasonable steps in the hiring process to avoid hiring someone who they either knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known was dangerous or unfit for a particular job.  That is called “due diligence.” If an employer violates that duty, they can be sued for “negligent hiring.”  Employers generally do not hire someone that they know is dangerous or unfit for a job. It is the “should have know” that creates the difficulty.  Without taking steps to hire intelligently, it is almost a statistical certainty that an employer will hire someone with a criminal record that should have been considered in the hiring process. 

For many small and medium business owners, the time, money and effort for a background check can seem overwhelming. Being a business owner is one of the toughest jobs in America. Background checks can seem like a waste of time and money, particularly if the business had never had a problem in the past. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad hire to ruin a small business or to ruin someone else’s life. 

The good news is that there are five easy and common sense steps an employer can take immediately. These five steps take practically no time and the cost very little, especailly compared ot the risk of not doing anything. There is no reason that any small business has to hire blind. With theses simple, quick and inexpensive steps, any small business can protect themselves, their workers and the public from a bad hire. Here are the steps:

  • 1.  Have each job applicant sign a consent form for a background check, including a check for criminal records. By announcing that your firm checks backgrounds, it will discourage applicants with something to hide, and encourage applicants to be truthful and honest about any mistakes they may have made in the past. For maximum protection, the release should extend to future background checks for retention, promotion or reassignment unless revoked in writing. If the actual job starts before a background check can be done, make sure to tell the applicant that the position is conditioned upon the employer receiving a background report that the employer finds satisfactory. 
  • 2. Ask an applicant both in the interview and on the  application if they have any criminal convictions or pending cases. During an interview, always ask, “If we were to check with the courts or police department, would we find an criminal convictions or pending cases.” Since the applicant realizes they have signed consent for a background search, there is a motivation to be honest. Be sure to not limit the question to only felonies. Misdemeanors can be very serious although some states limit inquiries about certain misdemeanors. But, do not ask about arrests not resulting in a conviction. It is a best practice to make every job applicant fill out an application.  That protects the employer in many ways.  For example, it makes it easier to compare applicants and to verify information. 
  • 3.  Verify the applicant’s employment for the past seven years and ask them what they thing past employers will say about them.  This is crucial. An employer must call past employers to confirm dates of employment. An employer needs to look into any unexplained gaps in employment where the applicant cannot account for their whereabouts. Many employers make the mistake of not bothering to call previous employers because they have learned from experience that previous employers often will not comment on the specifics of a previous employee’s job performance. However, not calling previous employers is one of the biggest and costliest mistakes an employer can make. Even if the past employers do not comment on job performance, it is critically important to at least verify employment dates and job title. Just knowing that the person has a solid job history is vital information. 
  • 4.  Do a background check:  It is now easier then ever for an employer of any size to perform a background check.  For example, Employment Screening Resources offers ESR Direct, a special service designed for small and medium employers to do background cheeks quickly and easily.  Small and medium businesses can have all of the tools and resources available to Fortune 500 firms.  It is an easy to use and intuitive online system to conduct essential background checks such as criminal records, driving records, sex offender information and past employment, credential or education checks. The system is as easy as ordering a book online.  At checkout, employers view the final amount and simply use a credit card — no surprise fees.  ESR provides the necessary forms for the applicant to sign.  The system is as easy as ordering a book online.  At checkout, view the final amount and simply use a credit card –no surprise fees or costs and the employer controls exactly the services they need.  Most importantly, small and medium business owners have direct access to background checking experts to help them set-up their program. Employees can sign up using a very simple online process.  A small and medium business can be ready to go in 24 hours or less.  See:  http://www.esrcheck.com/smallbizdivision.php