Tag Archives: employment screening

Recruiting Russian Roulette: Why Every Placement Has the Potential to Put You Out of Business

By Lester Rosen, President of ESR

(Originally Published on HR.Toolbox.com)

It’s a sobering thought, but every time a recruiting professional makes a placement, there is the possibility that new hire can put them out of business.

Why? Because if a dangerous, unqualified, unfit, or dishonest candidate is placed in a job and harm occurs, the hiring firm risks a lawsuit for negligent hiring. Perhaps just as importantly, a bad placement can result in loss of business and damage to a professional reputation that may have been years in the making.

The root of the problem, of course, is that some candidates lie on their resumes and applications. Industry statistics suggest that up to 10% of applicants can have criminal records. Fraudulent misrepresentations as to education and employment occur in as much as 40% of the time, according to some studies.

Individual recruiters can, in fact, be sued for negligence if harm occurs, and if she or he knew or should have reasonably foreseen that a bad placement could cause a problem. At that point, the heart of the staffing professional may sink when those dreaded words echo across the courtroom: “Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury.”

Those are words you never want to hear, and a situation in which you never want to be. Your protection and your best defense is to exercise “due diligence,” which means to verify the representations and qualifications of the candidate.

The allegation in a “Negligent Hiring” lawsuit (or “Bad Hire” lawsuit) would be that the staffing professional placed someone that they either knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known was unfit or dangerous. Of course, since a staffing professional would not intentionally place someone who was dangerous or unfit, the question before the judge or jury is whether the staffing professional reasonably should have known that the placement was bad if they had only exercised a greater degree of care in screening the applicant.

In such a lawsuit, a staffing professional would need to show, for example, whether credentials and education were verified, whether past employment was checked, and whether a criminal background check was done.

Lawsuits occur usually in cases where there is some sort of serious harm either to a business, such as embezzlement, or theft, or to an individual, such as assault, rape, child molestation, identity theft, or even homicide.

A staffing professional who is responsible for a bad placement can be sued by a number of parties, including the business entity that relied upon the professional judgment of the recruiter or staffing firm. Certainly, a co-worker or member of the public who was injured by the bad hire can sue for damages.

The worst case scenario would be that the bad hire resulted in the death of a fellow worker, and the victim’s family is suing for wrongful death. This is just what happened in a highly publicized case in California. A 28-year-old female winery worker was stabbed to death by a co-worker who was a convicted murderer and had been placed at the winery by a temp agency. The agency did NOT conduct a background check. The jury awarded the family $5.5 million.

If a recruiter is sued, it may well be an uphill battle to win in court. The jury will hear evidence that the recruiter recruited, recommended, or placed the offender. In most cases, the staffing professional probably makes representations about the quality of their services. The staffing professional’s website and sales literature may suggest that they provide only the best candidates who are carefully screened. However, in the world of recruiting, “screening” really only means that resumes have been reviewed to determine a good fit as opposed to “background screening” for criminal records and verification of facts represented on the resume.

The employer, hoping to lay the blame onto someone else, will of course claim that they relied upon the professional abilities of the staffing professional to send them qualified and safe candidates. There would likely be evidence that the recruiting or staffing firm made a fee on the placement. In the end, the attorney for the injured or deceased employee would ask jury members, “Didn’t the staffing professional have not only the resources and opportunity, but also the duty to conduct employee screening on the potential employee before approving their introduction into the workplace?”

In this scenario, it is not likely that the jury members will have much sympathy for the hiring firm or staffing professional.

Some recruiting professionals have resisted the idea of background checks because they feel that with their years of experience, they are good judges of people. That is no longer a defensible position, nor is it even accurate. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that even the most experienced recruiters cannot eliminate potential bad hires by detecting lies and evasions at the interview. Studies show that even though people believe they can detect liars, most people have only a 50-50 chance at best of detecting a liar. According to one recent study, even trained law enforcement officers are only right a little over half the time. The traditional means of reading body language, for instance, to screen out liars are useless against an accomplished con artist who can tell stories very convincingly.

Some recruiters may be concerned that background checks add to the cost of their services or hinder placement with unneeded delays while screening results are obtained. However, in today’s litigious world, recruiters and staffing professionals need to make a risk-management assessment: Is saving a few dollars and a little time worth playing Russian Roulette with each candidate you send out? Which one of these candidates will land you in court, or on the front page of the newspaper? Will your professional reputation be tarnished forever, perhaps beyond repair?

The bottom line is that due diligence and background checks go to the very integrity of the product being sold by recruiting and staffing professionals — workers who are qualified and fit for the job. Selling staffing services without knowing who you are sending to a client’s business would be like selling medicine with no idea of what is in the bottle.

Staffing and Search professionals have traditionally focused on Sourcing and Sales. It is worth noting that at some recruiting conferences, there are a large number of sessions devoted to making money through finding candidates and selling services. However, there are few sessions, if any, on the subject of how to ensure the integrity of the very product being sold. Recruiting and staffing professionals can protect their own business, their clients, and the public by shifting their focus from just Sourcing and Sales to Sourcing, Verifying and Sales.

For more information on employment screening and background checks for recruiters, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Source:

http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/background-checks/recruiting-russian-roulette-why-every-placement-you-make-has-the-potential-of-putting-you-out-of-business-35960

DOT Launches Pre-Employment Screening Program for Commercial Motor Carriers and Drivers

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

Citing safety as its highest priority, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has launched a Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) which allows commercial motor carrier companies to electronically access driver inspection and crash records as a part of the hiring process.

According to a DOT news release, the Pre-Employment Screening Program “sends a strong message to commercial carriers and drivers” that the government agency “is serious about having the safest drivers behind the wheel of large trucks and buses.” Commercial carriers now have “an essential tool for making informed hiring decisions that will lead to safer drivers on our roads,” FMCSA officials say, and the PSP “raises the safety bar for the motor carrier industry and helps to make our roads safer for everyone.”

To better assess the potential safety risks of prospective driver-employees, each Driver Information Resource (DIR) record contains the most recent five years of crash data and three years of roadside inspection data – regardless of the state or jurisdiction. Drivers also have opportunities to verify their driving history data and correct any discrepancies. In addition, a driver’s records will be protected in accordance with federal privacy laws.

According to the Pre-Employment Screening Program page on the DOT website, the PSP helps motor carriers make more informed hiring decisions by providing electronic access to a driver’s crash and inspection history from the FMCSA Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) which is comprised of driver performance data including:

  • Inspection and compliance review results;
  • Enforcement data;
  • State-reported crashes, and;
  • Motor carrier census data.

For more details on the PSP, visit http://www.psp.fmcsa.dot.gov or the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section at http://www.psp.fmcsa.dot.gov/Pages/FAQ.aspx.

For more information about pre-employment screening and background checks, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com. 

Sources:

http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/about/news/news-releases/2010/Pre-Employment-Screening-Program.aspx

http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/redirect.aspx?page=http://www.psp.fmcsa.dot.gov/

http://www.psp.fmcsa.dot.gov/Pages/FAQ.aspx

Alleged Crime by Census Worker Casts Spotlight on Government Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

In the wake of a census worker being accused of assaulting a young disabled woman in southern Indiana, questions have arisen about security issues surrounding the government background checks of the thousands of workers for the once-in-a-decade U.S. Census.

According to a report on the WRTV Indianapolis News website, the mother of a disabled 21-year-old woman in Pekin, IN told police that her daughter was raped and beaten by a 39-year-old male census worker who had come to the family’s home last week asking for census information and then returned early Saturday morning and assaulted her daughter.

The County Sheriff was quoted in the story as saying the accused census worker – who Census officials said started working for the agency two weeks ago – gave the victim a black eye and tried to strangle her, and that there are marks around her neck. Police also said the man left his wallet, which had his driver’s license, on the victim’s bedroom floor.

According to officials, the U.S. Census Bureau performs stringent FBI background checks and “turns away anyone who fails check out OK.” Census workers should never ask to come inside a home, and should show an official identification badge with a Department of Commerce watermark and carry a black census bag with titling and a seal. Anyone suspecting a census worker of inappropriate behavior should call the Bureau.

An employee at the Chicago Regional Census Center said the background screening process for prospective census workers is more rigorous than ever, WRTV reported. An applicant’s name, birth date, and Social Security Number go through an FBI criminal records check and other background checks. This year, fingerprints of prospective census workers are submitted to the FBI and checked against the FBI’s fingerprint database.

According to the ‘Background Check FAQ’ page of the http://www.census.gov/ website, the Census Bureau takes public trust seriously and works to ensure that temporary workers undergo the most thorough and accurate background checks possible. The Census Hiring and Employment Check (CHEC) Branch of the Administrative and Management Systems Division (AMSD) performs background checks for all applicants and employees.

Applicants for temporary Census jobs go through a name check against the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Name Index. The FBI database is searched to see if it contains a criminal history record file that matches an applicant’s name, date of birth, and social security number. This criminal history record file contains records of individuals that have been arrested and fingerprinted. All employees are fingerprinted on their first day of training and the fingerprint card(s) are submitted to FBI for processing.

For more information on FBI database criminal background checks, and how these federal crime databases can sometimes have inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://www.theindychannel.com/news/23526493/detail.html

http://www.census.gov/hrd/www/jobs/background.html

NFL Teams Use Background Checks to Help Draft College Football Players as New Employees

It is not uncommon for employers these days to use pre-employment background checks to help them hire new employees. Recent surveys from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed approximately 75% of employers ( three out of four) used background checks during their pre-employment screening of job applicants.

But what if the employer happens to be a professional franchise in the National Football League (NFL) and the job applicants are college football players? Along with statistics like touchdowns and tackles on the field, do NFL teams really care what football players do off the field?

Apparently they do “ a lot “ according to the New York Times NFL blog Fifth Down, which recently quoted a column from FootballOutsiders.com detailing the lack of privacy NFL draft prospects face, online and off, in today’s Internet-fueled, 24/7 sports world.

Every detail of a prospect’s background is researched by teams and publicized by the media. The scrutiny goes beyond touchdowns and dropped passes, it continues to arrests, scandals, and brief, long-ago suspensions for “undisclosed team violations. If a player was involved in some non-noteworthy taproom scuffle, we know about it.

For NFL teams, selecting a player in the annual draft is the main process used to hire new employees. Like any prudent employer hoping to avoid wasting time and money on unfit workers, they look at the past experience qualifications or prospective employees, and perform background checks to ensure that they are making an informed hiring decision.

With millions of dollars on the line,  the first overall selection in the 2010 draft, Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams, is projected to get $50 million in guaranteed money. NFL teams, like any prudent employer, use background checks before selecting future employees  in this case, college football players who hope to become professionals.

How prevalent have background checks become in helping NFL teams to decide what players to pick? Two sample Draft Profile on the NFL.com website show just how important:

  • (NFL Draft Prospect A) will need a pretty in-depth background check by any team considering drafting him. He has had off the field issues at both the University of Virginia as well as at Marshall…
  • (NFL Draft Prospect B) is a transfer from Florida who has struggled on and off the field because of injuries and conduct. He will require a strong background check by any team interested in gambling on his physical talent…

NFL teams conducting background checks on college football players is nothing new. A 2003 Los Angeles Times article reported that a former private investigator working for one team had done interviews and background checks on over 400 NFL draft prospects, while several other teams relied on former police officers and even a former director of the U.S. Secret Service to perform similar background checks. Other teams used background check reports that the NFL had compiled on prospects attending the leagues’ pre-draft combine.

Whether the employer is a pro football team or a small business, or the employee is a future gridiron all-star or a potential C-level executive, background checks help to ensure a safe work environment and to avoid the costs in both time and money  of a bad hires.

For more information about background checks, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a national pre-employment screening provider, at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://articles.latimes.com/2003/apr/20/sports/sp-nfldraft20

http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/11/n-f-l-prospects-have-no-privacy-on-internet-and-neither-may-you/

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/walkthrough/2010/walkthrough-click-your-own-risk

http://www.nfl.com/draft/2010/profiles/darius-marshall?id=497186

http://www.nfl.com/draft/2010/profiles/nyan-boateng?id=497272

The seven most common employer concerns about background checks

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

Even with all of the advantages of a screening program, many employers still have questions and concerns about implementing background checks.  These are the seven most commons concerns that employers express:

Is it legal?
Employers have an absolute right to conduct lawful pre-employment screening in order to hire the best-qualified candidates. A federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) balances the right of employers to know whom they hire with an applicant’s right of disclosure and privacy. Under that law, the employer first obtains the applicant’s written consent to be screened. In the event negative information is found, the applicant must be given the opportunity to correct the record. Employers should set up a consistent policy so similarly situated applicants are treated the same. In addition, criminal records should not be used to disqulaify an appliucant automatically.  A qualified screening company will assist an employer with legal compliance issues.

Does it invade privacy? 
No. Employers can find out about only those things that an applicant has done in his “public” life. For example, checking court records for criminal convictions or calling past employers or schools does not invade a zone of personal privacy. Employers are looking only at information that is a valid and non-discriminatory predictor of future job performance. To maintain privacy, many background firms have Internet systems with secured Web sites. Employers should also take steps to maintain confidentially within their organization.

Is it cost-effective? 
A pre-employment screening will typically cost less than the cost of a new employee on his or her first day on the job. That’s pocket change compared to the damage one bad hire can cause. In addition, employers typically only screen an applicant if a decision has been made to extend an offer, and not all applicants. It is ironic that some firms will spend hours shopping for a computer bargain and at the same time try to save money by not adequately checking out a job applicant, which represents an enormous investment. The bottom line is that problem employees usually cause employee problems, and money is well spent to avoid problems in the first place.

Does it discourage good applicants?
Employers who engage in screening do not find that good applicants are deterred. Job applicants have a desire to work with qualified and safe co-workers in a profitable environment. A good candidate understands that background screening is a sound business practice that helps a firm’s bottom line and is not an invasion of privacy or an intrusion. 

Does it delay hiring? 
No. Background screening is normally done in just 48 to 72 hours. Most of the information needed is not stored in databases but must be obtained by going to courthouses or calling up past employers or schools. Occasionally there can be delays that are out of anyone’s control, such as previous employers who will not return calls, schools that are closed for vacation, or a court clerk who needs to retrieve a record from storage.

Is it difficult to implement? 
For an overburdened HR, security, or risk-management department already handling numerous tasks, outsourcing background screening can be done very quickly and effectively. A qualified pre-employment screening firm can set up the entire program and provide all the necessary forms in a short period of time. Many firms have Internet-based systems that speed up the flow of information and allow an employer to track the progress of each applicant in real time.

How do we select a service provider?
An employer should look for a professional partner, not just an information vendor selling data at the lowest price. An employer should apply the same criteria that it would use in selecting any other provider of critical professional services. For example, if a employer were choosing a law firm for legal representation, it would not select the cheapest–it would clearly want to know it is selecting a firm that is competent, experienced, and knowledgeable, as well as reputable and reasonably priced. The same criteria should also apply to critical HR services. A screening firm should have an understanding of the legal implications of background checks, particularly the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. 

Both employers and applicants have learned that pre-employment screening is an absolute necessity in today’s business world. More importantly, they’ve learned due diligence in hiring is a way to keep firms safe and profitable in these difficult times.

Genuine Fake Diplomas on the Rise

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

Getting a college diploma apparently no longer requires years of hard work, taking tests, paying tuition or even reading a book. Why bother going though 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. 

In fact, the author’s dog received a very genuine-looking diploma in business administration in 2005 purportedly issued by the University of Arizona through an online diploma-selling service.  (The author picked on the University of Arizona only because a family member was attending Arizona State.  Since the author is a UCLA alumni, the author considered getting his dog a dipolma from USC as well, which was also an option.)

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.

With statistics showing that resume fraud is a significant issue, employers must be very cautious about accepting a physical diploma as proof of a degree. 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.

These fakes have not entirely escaped official attention. In Illinois, the legislature passed a law in 2004 aimed at addressing educational fraud. It is now a Class A Misdemeanor to knowingly manufacture or produce for profit or for sale a false academic degree, unless the degree explicitly states “for novelty purposes only.”

Also in  2004, a scandal erupted after an internal government watchdog agency reported that 28 senior officials who were then serving in the federal government had degrees from diploma mills or unaccredited universities. To address this problem and help employers sort the good from the bad, the U.S. Department of Education established a Web site that lists schools with legitimate accreditation. See:http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg4.html  The other accepted organization that can accredit the accreditors is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) found at www.chea.org,

As with other types of fraud, the criminals are always adapting. In response to the government’s efforts, degree mills have created fake agencies to accredit the fake degrees. 

Some web sites will even provide a phone number so an employer can get a fake verification of a fake degree.

Anytime an applicant claims to have earned a degree—and especially when that credential is a requirement for the job—an employer needs to take steps to ensure not only that the applicant went to the school and received the degree, but that the school is legitimate and that the degree represents genuine educational accomplishment.

ESR takes extensive measures to guard against educational fraud.  ESR first ensures that any school is on a “white list” of legitimate schools that is accredited by a recognized accreditation agency.  Unlike much of the rest of the world where the government is the accrediting agency, in the US accreditation is a complicated private/public partnership.  If the school is questionable, ESR accesses a number of lists maintained by different organizations of diploma mills.  However, diploma mills are a moving target and easy to start, so no list of diploma mills can ever be complete and up-to-date.  If a school is not on either list, ESR conducts an inquiry to determine the school’s status.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Releases New Resource Center for “All Things Background Checks”

By Jared Callahan, Employment Screening Resources

Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a leading national employment screening firm announced today the release of a Resource Center on its web site, containing “All Things Background Checks.” 

The new feature is intended to provide one  centralized location for ESR clients to keep current on the critical task of hiring a workforce that is safe and effective.  The site also allows Employers, Human Resources and Security Professionals, Recruiters and Job Applicants to locate resources on screening and to keep current on evolving issues affecting hiring by going to just one site.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is the firm that literally wrote the book on background checks, The Safe Hiring Manual, and provides pre-employment screening services and drug testing internationally.  The firm specializes in legal compliance expertise and industry leading technology, service, accuracy and turnaround. 

The new Resource Center starts with twelve icons, each directing users to a different area, including sections on whitepapers by ESR, Legal Resources, books, courses and even a section for job applicants.  One of the features includes access to ESR’s proprietary summary of staff opinion letters issued by the Federal Trade Commission.  The ESR blog, which is updated frequently, ensures that users of the site are updated on the latest trends and legal developments when it comes to safe hiring.  

“We are very pleased to have the opportunity to provide this critically important information to employers and consumers,” commented Jared Callahan, Director of Marketing, and a national speaker on topics related to safe hiring.  “Background screening is a critical part of the process in identifying the best employees and with this new Resource Center, employers may simply go to just one site to find the information they need.”

See: http://www.esrcheck.com/Resources/

Job Hunting and Credit Reports

For some reason, there are individuals and groups bent on scaring job applicants about credit reports by spreading miss-information that is just plain wrong.  Whether these people are just not well informed, or have their own agenda to push, the fact remains that job applicants are under enough stress without having to worry about things that are simply not true.

In previous blogs, ESR debunked two commonly held myths. See: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/815/basics-of-credit-reports-and-background-checks.

First, employers do NOT obtain your credit score if they order an employment credit report. Credit score has no relationship to job performance and is simply not provided to employers.  The reports do include a credit history, but not a credit score.

Secondly, employers are not running credit scores as some sort of insidious conspiracy deny jobs to applicants.  Employers only run credit reports AFTER an employer has gone through the time, cost and effort to find the right candidate, usually from a large field of applicants. An employer does not invest money in a background report just to find ways not to hire.  When an employer initiates a background check, it is because they are interested in hiring the applicant and are conducting due diligence to make sure there is no reason not to hire.

Another myth is that employers are running credit reports in large numbers on all applicants.  In fact, even though studies show a significant usage by employer of credit reports, they are not widely used on all applicants.  Most employers and Human Resources professionals understand that credit reports should be limited to those jobs where there is a business justification, such as positions with access to cash, assets or personal information or other sensitive positions.

What should a job applicant do regarding credit reports and job hunting?

First, understand that if you get to the point where an employer is running a background check, that is great news.  It means you made it though the hiring process and that you are most likely a finalist for a job.

It also means that the employer has spent considerable time recruiting, interviewing and making decisions, and that you rose to the top after the employer has reviewed lots of other resumes and applications.

Secondly, if you are concerned that a background check may include a credit report, do not be the last to know what your credit report may say.  As a consumer, you are entitled to a free credit report YEARLY from each of the credit bureaus.  A consumer just needs to go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp to run a free report.  If you see some sort of error, it would be a good idea to get that corrected as soon as possible.  There is a well established procedure for contacting the credit bureaus to bring an error to their attention and request it be remedied.

Third, if you are concerned that your credit history may reflect negatively, than have a discussion ahead of time with the hiring manger or Human Resources about your credit reports.  As most experienced Human Resources professionals can tell you, information honestly disclosed by an applicant has much less impact than information the employer discovers for themselves.

Also keep in mind that HR professionals understands that people have to deal with the realities of life. For example if a consumer was undergoing economic stress due to the recession, and relied on credit cards, or there was a medical issue that caused bills, let HR or the hiring manager know.  Also keep in mind that the only reason you are having this discussion is that the firm is seriously considering hiring you, and has gone through allot of time and effort to make that decision, including reviewing numerous other resumes.

Fourth, applicants need to keep in mind that they have rights.  Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a credit report is only obtained after the applicant has given consent and after a legally required disclosure on a standalone document has been given.  If the employer utilizes the credit report in any way not to hire, an applicant is entitled to a copy of their credit report, a pre- adverse action notice as well as a statement of their rights. Before any decision becomes final, the applicant also has the right to challenge the credit report before any denial of employment is made final.

The bottom-line:  If an employer feels a credit report is job related, and a consumer is concerned about that, keep in mind that the employer has made you a finalist, and therefore has an interest in hiring you.  You were evaluated without the employer having any idea of what was in the credit report.  If there are negative entries, be prepared to share it before the credit report is run. (ESR advises employers by the way not to utilize credit reports unless there is a clear business justification and the use is non-discriminatory and to take into account that credit reports can contain errors or material not relevant to employment.)

One other interesting point: there is no evidence that employers routinely engage in pulling back job offers after the review of the credit report.  There are certainly anecdotal stories, but on the whole, once an employer decides they want a particular person, and they have spent time and effort to make that decision, it usually takes something significant that was unexpected for an employer to change their minds.

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.

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