All posts by Les Rosen

Joseph Mahfet, Jr. joins Employment Screening Resources

Industry Veteran now Southern California Representative for Nation’s Top Rated Background Firm 

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is pleased to announce that Joseph Mahfet, Jr., a name synonomous with employment screening background checks in Southern California, has joined the company as a Senior Account Executive. Mr. Mahfet’s office is based in Southern California, as an extension of ESR’s corporate offices, which are headquartered in the San Francisco bay area.

HIs contact info is  jmahfet@esrcheck.com 

Phone: 818-800-7520

The Basics of Education Verifications

By Lester Rosen, President of Employment Screening Resources (ESR)

Educational credentials can be an important part of an employer’s decision making process in hiring. Educational achievement tells an employer a great deal about an applicant’s ability, qualifications, and motivation. Many employers feel that educational qualifications are a critical factor in predicting success on the job. For many positions, education is a prerequisite in terms of subject matter knowledge or for obtaining the appropriate license for the position. 

Surveys suggest that as many as 30% of all job applicants falsify information about their educational backgrounds. The falsifications can include outright fabrications such as making up degrees from legitimate schools the applicant never attended or valueless degrees from diploma mills.

An applicant can also falsify his or her educational achievements based upon some semblance of fact, such as claiming degrees from schools the applicant actually attended but did not obtain the degree claimed. Typically a candidate turns their months or weeks of attendance into an AA degree, or claims a BA or an advanced degree even if they did not complete the course work or fulfill all graduation requirements.

Colleges and universities also have a vested interest in confirming educational accomplishments. Confirming an applicant received a degree from their school helps their graduates and promotes the reputation of their school. Conversely, uncovering the fraudulent use of the school’s good name helps to preserve and protect the school’s reputation.

Background firms verify education in the U.S. in two ways. One way is to contact the school, usually through the registar’s office. Before doing that, however, a competent background firm will first run the name of the school against various databases to ensure that the school is legitimate and accredited, and not a phony degree mill. A number of schools will require a written release or a fee, which can delay the verification. Delays can also occur because schools operate on an academic schedule, which can mean the administrative offices are closed during holidays and the summer months.

The other options available to screening firms and employers are online services that have contracts with schools to gather degree information from schools, thus acting as the schools’ agents.

For some job applicants, getting a college diploma apparently no longer requires years of hard work, taking tests, paying tuition or even reading a book. Why bother going through the formalities when all a person needs is a credit card and a web browser in order to buy an authentic looking diploma that mimics real colleges, universities and even high schools across the U.S.? Go to any search engine and run keywords such as “Fake Diploma” and anyone can instantly “graduate” from nearly any school in America with a very handsome and authentic looking diploma suitable for hanging. 

One such website advertises that it creates “very realistic diplomas/transcripts. These diplomas/ transcripts are extremely high quality printed on official parchment quality paper. You can show your employer and they will never doubt that you indeed attended college. You will not find better quality anywhere!!!” 

Some of these sites “officially” caution that the diplomas and transcripts are intended for “Novelty and Entertainment Use Only.” However, the fake documents you receive do not have a disclaimer written any place on them. When presented with a physical diploma or transcripts, employers should fax a copy to the school to confirm its authenticity. Most background firms can tell stories of faxing copies of degrees, supplied by the applicant, to high schools and colleges only to be told the degree is a fake. 

Verifying high school education can present particular problems, due to the fact that there are so many high schools, and the fact they operate on an academic schedule. The most difficult degree to verify is typically a GED, since it requires additional time and effort to track down the office that has the information. 

Adding to the challenge is that some degree mills and fake online schools have even created fake accreditation agencies to falsely vouch for the fake schools. In the U.S. schools are generally accredited by private organizations, that are recognized as legitimate accreditors by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) found at http://www.chea.org. The U.S. government, in response to these issues, has created a web site where employers can look up a school to determine if and how it is accredited. The U.S. Department of Education has created The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutuions and Programs which provides searches of schools by accreditation agency. The web site is available at: http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/

ESR goes through an extensive procedure to verify that a school is legitimate.  First, ESR compares the schools to schools that are known to be legitimate.  If the school does not pass that test, ESR examines numerous “diploma mill” lists. However, those lists are a moving target since new diploma mills can be easily created.  If a school is not on either list, ESR then carefully reviews the schools web site and in particular, looks to see what “accreditation” the school claims.

The problems with degree mills, however, should not be confused with legitimate vocational or trade schools. Each state has an agency in charge of certifying state-approved educational programs. If there are questions about the legitimacy of a vocational or trade school, then an employer should contact the appropriate authority in their state. There are numerous distance learning programs available on the internet as well. An employer should evaluate the program to determine if it has relevance to the job.

The bottom-line is that employers should not take educational accomplishments at face value without ensuring that the applicant actually has obtained the degree, and that the degree is from a legitimate educational institution. For more information, contact Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.

Employment Screening Background Checks Annual Criminal Statistics

Various organizations publish their annual criminal “hit rates,” showing how many applicants subject to background screening had criminal records or other discrepancies. On one hand, these figures are extremely valuable because they confirm an already compelling case that background checks are critical for any employer that wants to exercise due diligence and protect its workforce and the public. In fact, as Employment Screening Resources has been advising employers for sometime, without a system of pre-employment screening, it is a virtual statistical certainty that an employer will hire someone with a serious issue that has the potential to create a legal and financial nightmare or cause workplace violence.

On the other hand, as with all statistics, these yearly reports need to be taken with a grain of salt. First, not all criminal records come as a surprise to employers. Given the number of Americans with some sort of criminal records, many employers are still willing to hire someone for an appropriate position, providing the applicant was not dishonest in the application. In fact, certain industries by nature of their workforce are more likely to draw upon a pool of potential applicants that may tend to have higher levels of past criminal conduct. Examples might be construction or firms that provide employment for entry level workers.

A statistic that would be very interesting but much harder to obtain is how many criminal records were discovered where the applicant was dishonest about past conduct. Of course, that gets complicated by the fact that an applicant may have been genuinely confused about what is or is not reportable on an application.

A related issue is that not all criminal records have the same impact. A criminal record for underage drinking is not in the same league as a conviction for armed robbery.

In reviewing these types of statistics, employers also need to keep in mind that not all of the criminal records located are job related. Employers should NOT automatically deny employment to an applicant with a criminal record unless there is a business justification that takes into account the nature and gravity of the crime, the nature of the job and the age of the crime. As noted in a recent blog on this site, the EEOC takes the position that the overuse of criminal records without a business justification can create a disparate impact, and therefore can be discriminatory. See: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/1057/new-eeoc-lawsuit-for-discrimination-based-on-credit-report-and-criminal-records

Finally, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the statistics without knowing the search methodology. Depending on how the searches were conducted, it is entirely possible in fact that such annual statistics may even understate the number of criminal records applicants had. The most accurate criminal record searches are done by accessing information directly from the county courthouse level, either by physically going the court, or by use of the court computer system that is the functional equivalent of going to the courthouse. That is the method used by Employment Screening Resources. Databases on the other hand, although much wider in scope, are not nearly as accurate, do not have all courts or jurisdiction, may not be updated, or may not contain sufficient identifiers.  To the extent any searching was done by the use of databases, the numbers could potentially be understated.

The bottom line: These statistics are an excellent reminder that employers need to be careful in hiring. However, as with most statistics, there is more to the story. Contact Employment Screening Resources for additional information.

Delay in Canada Criminal Searches through CPIC

The screening industry had been advised that the Canadian Government Administration has temporarily suspended providing criminal records though  the CPIC system (short for Canadian Police Information Centre) to Consuemr Reporting Agencies for pre-employment screening reports.    

The suspension related to a review of security measures.  CPIC is used by US employers for a national search of Canadian criminal records for employment purposes .  Employment Screening Resources (ESR) will keep employers advised when the service is resumed

Unjustified fears about Credit Scores and employment

A news release on the web today from a firm that apparently engages in credit repair uses the myth that credit scores are used for employment as an apparent marketing tactic. 

The press article indicates that a national recognized credit score except say, “…millions of Americans are in for a shock when it comes to applying for a high paying job, because many employers seeking to fill these positions will pull credit scores.”  See:   http://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=108684 

The problem of course is that it is simply not the case that employers use credit scores.  As pointed out in the ESR Blog on a number of occasions, it is an urban myth that credit scores are part of an employment credit report.  It is true that employers may view  a credit history, but the idea that credit scores are used is just factually wrong.  See the ESR blog at:  http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/815/basics-of-credit-reports-and-background-checks 

The bottom line is that consumers have enough to worry about in a recession, without the added and entirely unjustified fear that a credit score will hurt their chances for a job.  There may be a number of good reasons that consumers would want to improve their credit score, but fear of employers seeing the credit score is just not one of them.

Safe Hiring Audit and Due Diligence for Employers

Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a leading pre-employment background firm, and Facts on Demand Press have published “ The Safe Hiring Audit.” This book empowers human resources and security professionals, business owners and hiring managers with the resources needed to perform an effective audit of their employment procedures.

The 25-point action plan evaluates current hiring practices, identifies necessary changes, and shows how to implement these changes. Using the Audit’s action plan assists a company’s compliance with workplace laws, thus helping keep the company out of court.

The book was authored by ESR President Lester S. Rosen, with Michael Sankey, President of BRB Publications.

According to Rosen, “Companies of all sizes must periodically audit their employment practices to insure due diligence and compliance with discrimination and privacy laws, and determine whether an organization is using the current best policies, practices and procedures.” Rosen added that an effective audit can help avoid the high financial costs, legal complications, and managerial headaches of hiring unqualified and even dangerous employees.

Author Lester S. Rosen is an attorney-at-law and founder of Employment Screening Resources (www.ESRcheck.com), a national pre-employment background screening firm. He also is the author of, “The Safe Hiring Manual,” the first definitive book on background checks and safe hiring, and The Safe Hiring Course, the only online educational course available in the U.S. specifically for the background screening industry. 

Michael Sankey is the founder and CEO of BRB Publications, Inc. (www.brbpub.com), the nation’s leading publisher of books and web-based content dealing with access to public records and government information.

Why Background Firms should not contact an applicant directly

Some employers or recruiters want background firms to contact an applicant directly if there is a need to obtain additional information or to clarify information from an applicant.  If this has ever crossed your mind as an employer or recruiter, you might want to reconsider. 

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) generally recommends against having background firms getting in the middle of that special relationship between the Recruiter and the Applicant.  It creates confusion, causes delays, and brings a background screening firm into discussions with the applicant  who may not even realize that a third party is involved.

From many years of experience, ESR knows that background checks actually go much faster where the recruiter exclusively manages the direct applicant relationship and obtains additional information when needed. 

This issue of applicant contact can come up in a number of ways.

First, if a recruiter is submitting faxed orders instead of using the ESR online solutions, recruiters must understand the process can be delayed if orders are sent that are illegible or incomplete. For example, screening firms often face difficulty in deciphering an applicants handwriting as to past employers or a Social Security Number. An eight and a three can easily look alike.  Since a screening firm is not expected to read hieroglyphics or be a mind reader, the screening firm has to contact the recruiter to clarify the information. Some screening firms will make their best guess and if they are wrong, the report is delayed even further, proving the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.  Recruiters who review all applications for completeness, legibility and accuracy with the candidates before sending the applications to a screening firm will find their report is completed much faster.

Another example is an incomplete employment verification because the past employer has moved, merged, or gone out of business.  If the recruiter still needs that to be verified, then someone needs to contact the applicant and ask for things such as W-2’s, or names of past supervisors.  There are some recruiters who ask their background firm to do this, even though it is the recruiter that has most knowledge about the applicant and has direct contact.

There are a number of complications that arise if the screening firm attempts to contact the applicant. 

1.  The applicant does not know the background firm, and is naturally reluctant to supply a Social Security Number or date of birth to a stranger over the phone, or send pay stubs to someone they do not know.  That typically means the applicant will normally call the recruiter first anyway to find out what the situation is all about, which, of course, delays the screening process further.

2. The background firm often has to engage in phone tag, requiring back and forth before the screening firm can connect with the applicant.  Since the applicant has no relationship with the screening firm, an applicant does not always realize it is important to call back, especially if the applicant is looking at several different job offers.  On the other hand, if a recruiter is in hot pursuit of an applicant, or the applicant is focused on getting the job, it is likely that the recruiter will have a great deal less difficulty getting in touch with him/her to obtain the additional information or clarification. 

3.  The third issue is tracking.  The screening firm needs to track the status of the additional calls to the applicants and to deal with multiple applicants instead of a single point of contact.  Recruiters presumably already have an ATS or some other system to keep tabs on the progress of each job and each finalist (since typically only a finalist is getting screened). 

4.  The last and most important issue is when a screening firm calls the applicant, an applicant may now believe that the background firm is somehow involved in the hiring decision.  There have been applicants who have wanted to continue selling themselves to a background firm’s clerical employee, whose only mission was to obtain some missing information and who knows nothing about the job.  Or, if the applicant somehow feels that background employee did not give them the attention he or she deserved, the applicant may be left with a negative impression of the potential employer or complain about the contact.

For these reasons, many background firms typically prefer not to get themselves in the middle of the relationship between the recruiter and the applicant.

New EEOC lawsuit for discrimination based on credit report and criminal records

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced  on October 1, 2009 that they have filed a lawsuit against Freeman, a firm that offers nationwide convention services, on the basis that it used credit reports and criminal records to unfairly discriminate against black, Hispanic and male  job applicants.    This case has the potential to have a profound impact on the way employers hire in the U.S.

According to the EEOC press release the lawsuit charged that, “This practice has an unlawful discriminatory impact because of race, national origin and sex, and is neither job-related nor justified by business necessity.”

Even though the use of criminal records and credit history does not directly target people   protected by civil rights laws, the argument is that when those criteria were applied to Freeman applicants, the end result was that greater numbers of blacks, Hispanics and males were affected.  This is referred to as a “disparate impact.”  In other words, by using this information to make hiring decisions, the practical impact was that members of protected groups were unfairly treated and rejected in higher numbers.   

The EEOC has been active in identifying barriers that contribute to discrimination     In 2007, the EEOC launched the “E-RACE” (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment) Initiative. The purpose was to “improve EEOC’s efforts to ensure workplaces are free of race and color discrimination.” http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/initiatives/e-race/index.cfm

The use of credit reports and criminal records being used to deny employment has been hot-button issues for the EEOC.  The last significant case was El. v. Septa, 479 F.3D 232 (3d. Cir. 2007), where a 40 year-old second degree murder conviction was allowed to be used to deny employment.  However, part of the decision was based upon the fact that the applicant that was suing for discrimination did not present any statistical evidence to rebut expert testimony by the employer that even a 40 year old crime can be relevant.  The company had a “bright-line” policy of rejecting applicants with convictions for violence. 

Since then, a study was conducted by Professor Alfred Blumstein at Carnegie Mellon University that suggested that after a period of as little as five years for some crimes, a person with a criminal record was no more likely to re-offend then a person with no criminal record.   Ironically, the same professor was the expert in the El v. Septa  matter where a 40 year old murder was sufficient to deny employment .

ESR has written an in-depth analysis of the Blumstein study at:   http://www.esrcheck.com/Blumstein-and-Nakamura-study-on-redemption-in-Criminology.php”>http://www.esrcheck.com/Blumstein-and-Nakamura-study-on-redemption-in-Criminology.php

This case will not likely be finalized anytime soon and could well need to go to higher courts for a final resolution.  However, the case is a stark reminder that employers need to review their hiring practices, to ensure that any pre-employment assessment tool is both a valid predictor and job performance and not discriminatory. 

In the case of criminal records, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) has long advised employers that they should NOT automatically reject an applicant with a criminal record, but should instead determine if there is a business necessity that precludes hiring.  The EEOC has suggested that employers take into account the nature and gravity of the crime, the nature of the job, and the age of the offense.  Similarly, ESR has also long advised employers that credit reports should be approached with caution, and only used where relevant to the job, such as positions involving access to cash, assets or fiduciary duties.

International background checks and data and privacy protection

An important consideration when U.S. screening firms do international background checks are the application of foreign privacy laws regarding the manner in which information is obtained, transmitted, and utilized. The central issues are data privacy and protection. The European Union (EU) has extensive privacy laws that affect U.S. employers and screening firms.  These rules went into effect in 1998. The European privacy rules impact the transmissions of “personally identifiable data” from offices in EU countries to businesses in the U.S.

Firms that acquire data on individuals from EU member countries without compliance with the EU rules can be in violation of EU law. This can have a serious impact on international firms or firms that do business in an EU country.

 However, American firms that develop a privacy policy may enter what is called a “Safe Harbor” by certifying a privacy policy that includes adequate mechanisms to protect confidential personal data. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

A firm can become Safe Harbor certified by following the guidelines listed at the Department of Commerce.  Information can be obtained at http://www.export.gov/safeharbor/ 

Employment Screening Resources was just the third background screening firm in the U.S. to receive Safe Harbor Certification from the Department of Commerce.  

ESR provides international background checks all over the world, including criminal records, and employment and education verifications.  ESR’s president Lester Rosen was the keynote speaker at the first international background screening conference held in India in 2007, and has traveled to a number of countries to investigate background screening. ESR also published the first comprehensive white paper on international background checks as part of the book, “The Safe Hiring Manual.”   

For more information on international employee screening services, see, see: http://www.esrcheck.com/international.php

fake references and employment screening background checks

From the mailbox:  What are the risks for an applicant in providing a fake reference.  I even hear there are web sites that will give you a fake reference that look real and they even create a web site for the fake company.  In a tough job market, why not? 

Response from  ESR:  The old saying that honesty is the best policy is more then just good advice for a job seeker, it can mean the difference between getting a great job or having your career  get permanently smirched. 

First, the chance of even pulling of a fake reference is getting much more difficult.  Statistics show that most employers routinely contact past employers either themselves or through a background firm.  A good background firm will typically independently establish if the past employer even existed, and locate a phone number independently of whatever number an applicant puts on their resume.  A screening firm may not simply call the name and number provided by the applicant. Employment Screening Resources, for example, goes through an extensive procedure to verify that each past employer is legitimate and does not accept the applicant provided phone number.

Even if the fake reference somehow survives the vetting process, it is hard to keep and live a lie, especially when you never know when the truth may come out.  For example, a supervisor or co-worker may meet someone in your industry that somehow spills the beans. Furthermore, if a person gets a position they cannot actually perform due to a fake reference, it is just a matter of time before they get a negative performance appraisal. 

In addition, co-workers that suspect a fraud have also been known to do their own digging. Furthermore, most employers have employment applications that clearly state that if a person has lied during the application process, it is grounds for termination no matter when discovered.  There is now statistical evidence suggesting that if a person is dishonest in the way they get the job, they the will likely be dishonest once in the job. Once a fabrication is discovered, the resulting termination and the inability to use the most recent employment on your resume can leave a big unexplained employment gap and impact future job searches.

Certainly, applicants have the right to put their best foot forwards, and to cast themselves in the best possible light. But when the resumes goes beyond mere puffing into lies, fiction and fabrication, the long lasting damage to your career,  the emotional energy required to live a lie and the damage to your personal integrity  is just not worth it.