Statistics and employment screening background checks

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

In an article on background checks posted on  Workforce Management in January, 2010, it was suggested  that “Employment and criminal checks also do little to screen out those who commit fraud.”  The reason is that statistics from a  2008 report by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners based on 959 cases of workplace fraud showed that  Only 7 percent of fraud perpetrators have prior convictions, and only 12 percent have been previously terminated by an employer for fraud-related conduct. 

This is a good demonstration on an often use quote about statistic:  “Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”  

The article overlooks a critical fact that the use of screening keeps would be embezzlers out of a positions of trust where they handle finances in the first place.  Fraud professionals certainly recommend background checks because it is the first line of defense that keeps former embezzlers out of positions of trust in the first place. As professional screeners, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) has saved many organizations from hiring former embezzlers and thieves for positions of trust  involving finances. However, there is no way to measure the numbers of frauds that are averted due to background checks.  The argument in Workforce is  like arguing flu shots are worthless because people who get the flu shots may still gat a flu.  An accurate assessment of the viability of a tool needs to include what would have happened if the tool was not used.  

The article goes on to suggest that screening for criminal convictions may also be ineffective in reducing workplace violence. That is because, according to the article, contrary to popular belief, the majority of workplace violence incidents are not committed by new hires with criminal convictions. Instead, they result from robberies committed by perpetrators from outside the firm, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The suggestion that because most workplace violence is external shows screening of applicants is ineffective is equally illogical.   Screening is used to screen the workforce.  Even if employee violence is not the major cause of workplace violence, it is still a  significant cause.   Experts agree that a common denominator behind many acts of workplace violence by employees is a prior history of violence. That is certainly not true 100% of the time, but it is significant factor. 

Suggesting screening is not effective because outsiders cause the majority crimes is like arguing that healthy habits are a waste of time because sometimes a healthy person comes down sick anyway. When there is an act of workplace violence that could have been prevented by screening that results in a lawsuit against an employer, it is doubtful that any jury will buy that argument suggested in the Workforce article.    To the injured worker, or the to the family of someone killed by an act of preventable workplace violence by an employee, the suggestion that screening is a waste of time will certain ring hallow. 

This argument brings to mind another quote about statistics: “Then there is the man who drowned crossing a stream with an average depth of six inches.” 

Once again, statistics can lead down a very wrong road.

The  Workplace article is at: (may require sign-up and log-in)

For more information on why background checks are mission critical tool for employers, see