Yearly Archives: 2009

Screening Vendors and Temporary Workers

A recent article in the SHRM 2008 Staffing Management Library underscores the need to screen even temporary hires.  Although many employers have well thought-out programs for their regular employees, temporary employees from staffing firms, 1099 workers or vendors pose similar risks.  The article explained why screening temporary employees is critical, and offers suggestions on how a firm can protect itself.

The article also quotes ESR President Lester S. Rosen: 

“Even if you have a person on a short-term assignment, you’re exposed,” added attorney Lester S. Rosen, president and CEO of the Novato, Calif.-based firm Employment Screening Resources. “They have the keys to the kingdom. Once they’re inside your building, they have access to your files and have the potential to do great harm.”

Rosen said that while staffing vendors “have traditionally not engaged in a great deal of screening because it slows down the placement time and adds to the cost,” they need to understand that they have “a huge risk” if they send unscreened employees to a workplace.

“They have to realize that every placement they make is potentially a game of Russian Roulette that can put them out of business,” he explained. “If you’re a staffing vendor, it only takes one bad hire to lose your reputation, lose a client and [potentially to] get sued.”

And even though an extended worker may be getting a paycheck from the staffing vendor, under “co-employment” law, employers may still be at risk of a negligent hiring suit if something goes wrong.

“If [temporary employees] cause a hostile workplace, hurt a member of the public or attack a co-worker, arguably employers are just as liable as they would be if this were a full-time, regular employee,” Rosen said.

The fact that the staffing vendor said it did background checks may not be much of a defense for an employer if the check was inadequate or ineffective. For this reason, it pays to do adequate due diligence to head off any potential lawsuits down the road.

After all, Rosen said, “Even the CIA will, every so often, hire a spy or a crook.”

The article discusses the need to evaluate the risks involved in utilizing an extended workforce and to develop an appropriate screening program.  The screening may be performed by the same firm that checks new applicants.  If done by the staffing vendor’s firm, then the employer can require that the same protocols be used that it uses internally. 

For a full copy of the article, see http://www.shrm.org/ema/library_published/nonIC/CMS_024438.asp#TopOfPage

The Basics of Criminal Records Searches

Searching for criminal records is much more complicated than it appears on the surface.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no central database available to most private employers to instantly find a person’s criminal record at one touch.  The FBI database is only available to employers that are legally authorized to submit fingerprints, the readouts can be complex and there is even the possibility of errors in those records.  With some 3200 counties in the US, screening firms have developed tools and techniques to identify potentially relevant counties to search, and nearly any county in America can be researched on site within 24-36 hours. The best practices for employers are to identify counties associated with the applicant and to search those counties by going to the courthouse. The way relevant counties are identified is first by using a tool called a social security trace that uses millions of records which show what addresses a social security number is related to. In addition, some employers also search counties where a person has worked or gone to school.  Although such searches are very accurate, as with anything depending on human beings, there is still some small margin of error possible. 

Even assuming a record is found, a professional screening firm must determine if there are sufficient identifiers to associate the record to the applicant, and even if the criminal record belongs to the applicant, numerous states have laws that restrict what can be reported. Many states do not allow the use of arrest records, and even if a state allows it, there may be EEOC considerations. Even if a screening firm can report a conviction, the employer needs to consider whether the use of the record is discriminatory.  An employer should not automatically reject an applicant with a criminal record, unless there is a business justification, taking into account such things as the nature and gravity of the act, the nature of the job and the age of the crime. 

Employers should be careful in the use of commercial databases that are advertised to search millions of records with instant results.  Those 30 second searches are NOT a substitute for a real criminal check at a courthouse and probably would not demonstrate due diligence if used all by themselves. These databases are assembled from a hodgepodge of various sources that are willing to make their data public or to sell data, such as incarceration systems, state repositories or individual counties.  These databases do not cover all states and may not be up-to-date, accurate or complete.  Certain states do not provide date of birth, which is another reason a criminal record may not come up in a database. This can all lead to both false negative and false positive results from databases. A false positive means a person is branded a criminal who is not, and a false negative means a person with a criminal record is falsely ‘cleared.’ 

The commercially available instant criminal reports are best used as a research tool only by a professional screening firm to locate other places to search.  Since they cover such a wide area, they can be very valuable in locating records that a county by county search can miss.  However, these instant databases are also a potential source of litigation against employers and screening firms, with applicants filing lawsuits for being unfairly tarnished as criminal, or victims claiming that the employer did not exercise due diligence.  Even if there is a database ‘hit,’ under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the background screening firm must either reconfirm the details at the actual courthouse to ensure accuracy, or send a contemporaneous notice to the applicant at the same time, so they know that they are the subject of negative public records.  California is one state where any database ‘hit’ must be re-confirmed at the courthouse and ESR believes it is a best practice to reconfirm all database hits at he courthouse to guard against unfairly labeling someone as a criminal where their case has been dismissed, or they are the victim of identity theft or just happen to have the same last name as a perosn with a criminal record. 

Some states offer access to the state police or central state court databases.  Again, it takes a background screening expert to understand the value of such information on a state by state basis.  There is also a difference between state court searches and federal courts. 

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg.  For more details, see: http://www.esrcheck.com/services/services_detail.php

Court Case on Use of Social Networking Sites

As ESR has noted in numerous presentations on the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace for employment, this is an evolving area of law that is still waiting for lawsuits to wind their ways through courts resulting in published judicial opinions. Continue reading

Annual Top Ten Trends in the Background Screening Industry

ESR has identified the following trends for 2009 in its second annual report on trends in the screening industry and safe hiring.  The full report is online at:  http://www.esrcheck.com/2009-trends-backgroundscreening-industry.php

  1. Increased Governmental Mandates: The federal and state governments for 2009 are likely to require more background checks, especially in sensitive industries.  In addition, right-to-work verification under the E-verify program will be a hot topic for 2009.
     
  2. Privacy and Accuracy:  Privacy advocates in 2009 will be focused on resolving instances of noncompliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s requirements for accuracy and dispute investigations.  A leading cause of inaccuracies comes from matching innocent job applicants to criminal records based upon the same, or a similar, name in a database, without re-verification of the record at the courthouse.  A new organization called Concerned CRA’s (www.concernedcras.com) has taken a stance against utilizing such databases without taking proper measures to ensure accuracy of criminal records.
  3. Second Chance for Ex-Offenders: Unless as a society we want to build more prisons than schools or hospitals, something must be done to reduce recidivism and find employment for applicants with criminal records.  The State of New York, for example, to deal with this issue directly, has passed new â second chance” laws that became effective this year. The laws place a greater emphasis on employers analyzing a past criminal record to determine whether there is a business justification to not hire a person, including providing job applicants with notice of these various new rights.
  4. Consumer Protection Litigation:  As the screening industry matures, and applicants and their lawyers become much more informed about their consumer rights, it is likely that there will be an increase in litigation in 2009.  These lawsuits, including class action lawsuits, will be filed against screening firms, particularly when it comes to various notices required under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and accuracy requirements for the Background Screening Report results.
  5. Impact of the Recession: As a result of the recession and higher unemployment, it is likely that employers will need to scrutinize applications even more carefully, to be on the watch for fraudulent credentials, such as inflated or fictional employment or education history.
  6. Data Security, Data Breaches, and Off-shoring Data: Since identity theft continues to be a national and international problem, expect even more emphasis in 2009 on data security and protection.  Closely related is the continuing issue of employers and screening firms sending confidential consumer data offshore for processing to places such as India for cost savings.  Once data leaves the United States, it is beyond U.S. privacy protections.  Concerned CRR’s (www.concernedcras.com) has also taken a stance against off-shoring such data without notification to consumers.  The use of home-operator networks also presents an unnecessary risk to privacy as well.  There is no justification for personal information to be spread across kitchen tables and dorm rooms across America.
     
  7. Accreditation by the NAPBS: The non-profit trade organization for the Screening Industry, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (www.napbs.com) has announced the introduction of an accreditation program.  NAPBS has gone through an exhaustive process to develop “Best Practices” for the industry, and it is anticipated that firms will start going through the accreditation process this year.
  8. Social Network Sites:  The use of social networking sites as a pre-employment screening device will continue to be a hot topic in 2009, as more recruiters and HR professionals go online to satisfy their curiosity about candidates.  The problem: contrary to popular belief, just because it is online does not mean that it’s a good idea to utilize it without developing policies and procedures.  Online material can be inaccurate, discriminatory, and under certain circumstances, its use can be an invasion of privacy.  Stay tuned as more courts give their opinions on this issue.
  9. Integration of Services:  With the advent of Web 2.0, it is likely that technology will play an even bigger role in the coming year.  Seamless integrations with Applicant Tracking Systems allow paperless background screening systems at the click of a mouse.
  10. International Background Checks: With mobility of workers across international borders, Due Diligence is no longer limited to just what an applicant has done in the United States and there will be stronger demand in 2009 for International Criminal, Education, and past Employment checks.

 

ESR will place its Third Annual Top Ten Trends in January, 2010.

The Use of Home Operators

Some screening firms use home based operators to perform employment and education verifications.  That of course represents a big financial advantage for the screening firm.   They get cheap labor, and may even classify them as independent contractors in order to get even additional savings by not paying workers’ compensation, benefits or other costs associated with employees.    However, it does very little to help employers.  Below are the top 10 reasons NOT to utilize a background firm that sends your applicants’ personal data to home operators working from kitchen tables and dorm rooms across America.

 

  1. Privacy: A screening firm would be directly responsible for making private information viewable and printable on people’s home computers.
  2. Professionalism: A screening firm would have difficulty accurately claiming that at-home researchers are “professionals” when they are unsupervised, unregulated and acting as cheap substitutes for what is supposed to be a professional service. Ask yourself how the sound of barking dogs, crying babies and television sets in the background may strike those asked to provide verifications.
  3. FCRA Defensibility: A screening firm would  have difficulty defending the practice of using at-home researchers against a claim under FCRA section 607(b) concerning reasonable procedures for accuracy.
  4. IC Classification: A screening firm cannot classify someone as an Independent Contractor (IC) when they work only for you, when you tell them exactly how to do their job, and when they are providing the same core services provided by your in-house staff.
  5. Training/QC: A screening firm cannot train and discuss production issues in real time. It is also difficult for at-home researchers to learn from each other when everyone is working in isolation. Furthermore, since everyone works alone it is harder to enforce quality rules across the entire organization.
  6. Supervision: Unsupervised at-home researchers are very difficult to supervise. In addition, since they are paid by the completed verification, they may be more tempted to fake orders since there is no one supervising them in real-time.
  7. Reliability: A screening firm would  be dependent entirely on the researcher’s priorities, which may not be your own. They may put a hair appointment ahead of your forty new verifications that have to be called today. You want load balancing to be under your control and not secondary to at-home researcher’s personal schedules.
  8. Hidden Costs: There are hidden costs to managing and maintaining multiple remote researchers as opposed to a central pool of talent. Take, for instance, the time lost to the unreliable performance of at-home researcher’s internet connections, home computers and printers.
  9. Due Diligence: A screening firm and employer could face significant legal exposure if the  at-home researcher’s performance falls below a professional standard of care due to lack of training and supervision.
  10. Disclosure: Would you want to disclose to your applicants that the sensitive, personal data and professional service they’ve entrusted you with was being performed by unsupervised home workers?

 

ESR does not utilize any home based or offshore operators in order to  provide you with critical employment and education verifications.  All work is done in a professionally supervised call center dedicated to the highest level of customer service, privacy, accuracy and speedy turnaround time.

Background Checks and Recruiters

A leading national Recruiting Blog by noted national recruiting and training expert John Vlastelica recently featured the role that a screening firm such as ESR can play for recruiters.  The blog, Recruiting Tool Box, is a management consulting and training firm that partners with HR and recruiting leaders to build and deploy the right recruiting strategies, plans, processes, systems, tools and training.  It has great tools and information for recruiters.  See:  http://www.recruitingtoolbox.com/ 

The following is an excerpt from  the blog for the Recruiting Tool Box : 

Considering a new background check vendor?
I completed a custom benchmarking study 18 months ago for a client, and asked 20 major employers about their background check policies, processes, standards, and plans for the future. 50% said they were relatively unhappy with their current vendor.

There’s a lot of firms out there. I was networking with people from a firm (ESR) based in California yesterday, and I asked them some questions about the differences between the firms in their space. (Their President was one of my favorite speakers at the Kennedy show I was at a few weeks ago, and we’re bringing him to Seattle to speak to us on Sept 16; watch www.smaseattle.org for details in the coming weeks).

They pointed me to a 22 question checklist that highlights key questions you should ask any background check vendor you’re considering. I thought it was an objective list, so thought I’d share it.

http://www.esrcheck.com/diligence-audit-current-provider.php

Are you pleased with your background check vendor? What makes them work well – or not so well – for you?

p.s. Note: I don’t have any commission relationships with any vendors of any kind. I certainly have opinions about firms and people in our space, but my opinions are not influenced by commissions or kickbacks.

See:  http://recruitingtoolbox.blogspot.com/2009/06/background-check-vendor-checklist.html

Negligent hiring and retention leading causes of employment lawsuits

A recent article in the Connecticut Law Tribune re-enforces what ESR has been telling employers for some time—that lawsuits for negligent hiring and negligent retention are among the most common claims against employers.

Per the articles, “The difference between the hiring and retention claims is when the employer became aware of a threatening employee; often, the arguments are that employers inadequately screened job applicants or failed to act on complaints about an employee who later committed a violent act.”

The story concern workplace violence and employee behavior that can be hostile, threatening or violent.  This can lead to lawsuits seeking damages for emotional distress, a hostile workplace all the way to damages stemming form violence where a person is the victim of a workplace crime.  The article noted that, “In a bad economy, stress increases and people’s fuses get shorter.”

The article cites a study in the 1990s, where “liability expert Norman D. Bates conducted a study that found workplace violence tort cases averaged $500,000 per settlement and a $3 million per jury verdict.”

According to the article:

“The potential for litigation seems to be high, based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics. On average, more than 2 million acts of violence occur in the workplace every year. When it comes to assaults, women are targeted at a much higher rate than men, both in Connecticut and nationally. From 2005-07, the U.S. Department of Labor tracked 1,250 non-fatal workplace assaults in Connecticut, and women were the targets in 77 percent of those cases. On the national level during the same period, women were targeted in 63 percent of the more than 47,000 non-fatal assaults.”

The article discussed that while many employers are focused on preventing workplace homicides, there are many lesser acts of hostility, such as workplace intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment and psychological abuse that can be red flags for future violence that also need to be addressed.

The article suggested solution that employers can utilize to minimize the chances of a lawsuit stemming from workplace hostility and violence.

See:   Taking Aim At Workplace Disputes at http://www.ctlawtribune.com/getarticle.aspx?ID=35073

California Background Checks and the Recession and Court Closures

According to the web site for the California courts, there will be monthly court closures.  The site indicates that: 

Due to the unprecedented statewide fiscal crisis, the Supreme Court of California, the Courts of Appeal, and all superior courts will be closed the third Wednesday of every month, beginning September 16, 2009. See: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/ 

The impact for employers is that California background checks will be delayed by one day where a search is required for a California court.  Where an employer is also waiting for an educational or employment verification as well, the closure hopefully will not delay the overall report, since a report can only be completed as fast as each of the individual components.  Nevertheless, the court closures may potentially affect some employers seeking to fill a job quickly.

ESR will keep employers notified of any changes in the court’s policy, Employer may also encounter similar recession caused court decays elsewhere in the U.S.

Employment Screening Expert Lester Rosen To Present At National Recruiting Conference in Chicago

Employment Screening Resources,  a leading international employment screening background checking firm headquartered in the San Francisco area, announced that its president, Lester Rosen, will be presenting before the combined KennedyInfo/Onrec 2009 Recruiting Conference and Expo in Chicago, Illinois on November 3, 2009. 

This national recruiting conference brings together online recruiting leaders and productivity solution providers from around the globe to push the boundaries of online recruitment solutions.  See: http://www.onrec.com/conferences/031109/schedule.html

Mr. Rosen will be addressing, “Don’t Play Recruiting Russian Roulette: Hot Issues, Trends and Current Developments in Background Check.”  

 “Ensuring that candidates are qualified and bona fide are critical element of the recruiting process,” commented Rosen. “I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this prestigious conference and to share information on the latest trends and developments relating to due diligence in hiring to assist recruiters in avoiding hiring lawsuits just waiting to happen.” 

Mr. Rosen, who is also an attorney, is a nationally recognized, expert, on employments screening background checks.  He is a writer and speaker on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), pre-employment screening, and safe hiring issues. In addition, Mr. Rosen is the author of the first comprehensive book on employment screening background checks, “The Safe Hiring Manual Complete Guide to Keeping Criminals, Imposters and Terrorists Out of Your Workplace.” He also wrote, “The Safe Hiring Audit.”

 Mr. Rosen’s speaking appearances have included numerous national and statewide conferences.   He has testified in the California, Florida  and Arkansas Superior Court as an expert witness on issues surrounding safe hiring and due diligence. Mr. Rosen was the chairperson of the steering committee that founded the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), the professional trade organization for the screening industry, and served as the first co-chairman in 2004. 

More information about Employment Screening Resources can be found at www.ESRcheck.com

Background Checks and Electronic References

In the never ending efforts by employers to identify candidates that are a good fit and qualified, a new internet tool has been developed to allow employers to utilize email to accelerate the process of obtaining references and assessments from past supervisors and others that know the applicant. The best example is www.Checkster.com

Questions have arisen as to how such a tool is related to the background screening process that employers utilize in order to exercise due diligence.  In fact, the two processes, although related in some ways, are entirely separate workflows that occur at different times in the hiring process and for different reasons.

Internet based references can be utilized by an employer to whittle down the field of candidates and to help an employer decide whom to hire.  Background checks occur after an employer has made a tentative decision, and needs to determine whether there is any reason NOT to hire an applicant.

When past employment checks are done as part of the background check process, the purpose is to verify that the employer actually exists and to independently verify the core details of employment, such as job title and dates.  In other words, there is a large difference between obtaining references before a hiring decsion is made, which are a qualitative measure of an applicant’s fit and abilities, and factual verification of an applicant’s employment history, which is a critical due diligence task.  Both processes can be useful in the quest to select the best candidates to hire and to avoid bad choices.  However, electronic references cannot be considered due diligence, given that they are so easily faked and depends entirely upon the applciant giving good data in the first place.