Tag Archives: Negligent hiring

Defenses That Do and Do Not Work in Negligent Hiring Cases

If an employer is sued for negligent hiring on the basis that they hired someone that they either knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have know was dangerous, unqualified, unfit or dishonest, and it was reasonably foreseeable that some of harm could occur, an employer can be sued for negligent hiring.  That is the opposite of due diligence.  If the subject of a legal action, employers do have some potential defenses in a court case, but they are far from a sure thing.

The best defense is that the employer did in fact exercise due diligence and reasonable care, but despite those best efforts, a bad hire fell through the cracks. An employer would have to show that they took a number of steps designed to avoid bad hires. An employer can review the adequacy of their hiring efforts by taking the safe hiring audit offered by ESR. See: http://www.backgroundchecktraining.com/Safe-Hiring-Audit.asp

Another defense that had been successful is that the crime or injury was too remote or unconnected from the employer’s negligence, or was not foreseeable. An example is the California case ESR recently reviewed where a plumber with a criminal record was hired, meet a woman on the job that he started dating, was terminated by the employer and then murdered the girlfriend two years later. The victim’s family’s argued that but for the negligent hiring, the two would not have met in the first place and the murder would not have occurred. The court found that the murder two years later and long after termination was not sufficiently connected to the hiring to hold employer legally responsible. See: http://www.esrcheck.com/newsletter/archives/September_2009.php#T1

Another defense that a background checks would have not have revealed anything anyway so that the employer’s failure to conduct an adequate pre-screening was not the cause of the injury.  As the old adage goes, “every dog has its first bite.”  If there was nothing for a background check to locate that was a potential a “Red Flag,” that is also a defense.

Some defenses that do not work? Employers have not been very successful in defending lawsuits on the basis that due diligence and background checks cost too much, especially considering how inexpensive it is to screen. Another argument that may not go far with a jury is that the employer did what every other employer did in their industry. The fact that all employers in an industry engage in the same practice does not mean that the employer has meet the legal duty of due diligence, since a “standard practice” is not the same as a “standard of care.” The least successful defense is the argument that the employer is also the victim as well, or that they were victimized by an applicant lying.

The bottom-line: Exercising due diligence in hiring and conducting background checks is a small price to pay to avoid the “Parade of Horribles” that can befall an employer that makes bad hiring decisions.

Due diligence risk management and Employment Screening

In the April, 2009 ESR Newsletter, ESR reported on a case in Ohio where a negligent hiring lawsuit was filed on behalf of a sleep clinic patient that was sexually molested by a staff member.  http://www.esrcheck.com/newsletter/archives/April_2009.php.  The article reported that a technician was facing gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition charges for allegedly molesting five victims.  The lawsuit “accuses the sleep clinic of negligence for hiring (the worker) and failing to properly supervise him.”  

Another sleep clinic case, this time from California is now in the news.  According to a story in the Monterey County Herald, a sleep technician was accused of sexual misconduct and the case eventually resulted in a no contest plea to a battery charge.  The case even lead to a new law in California that regulated workers in sleep clinics and required them to pass background check.  See:  http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_13864096 

These stories demonstrate a fundamental fact of life for employers. In deciding how extensively to perform background screening, employers need to consider the risks involved.  Patients in a medical facility are highly vulnerable and therefore at greater risk. Presumably, patients at a sleep clinic are even more vulnerable since they are there to sleep.

Examples where employers may have an increased duty of care are: 

  • The workers have contact or responsibilities with groups at risk, such as the young, infirmed, or elderly.
  • Jobs such as a security guard, where a person acts under a “color of authority.”  A person who wears a uniform is even a higher risk since a person may assume they have authority and may let their guard down. 
  • Jobs with special responsibilities such as an apartment manager that has the master key to all of the apartments.
  • Jobs where a worker has access to sensitive consumer information, such as credit card numbers or Social Security numbers.
  • Jobs where by statute, there is particular sensitivity.  An example can be safety sensitive positions such as workers at nuclear plants.  Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is another area where that may create a higher duty of care.
  • Jobs where workers enter homes, or where other unique risks exist.  A person in their own home can be extremely vulnerable since they are shielded from the public and cannot obtain help easily.  In fact, an organization called the Sue Weaver Cause advocates greater due diligence where workers enter homes.  According to their website:
    “August 27, 2001, Sue Weaver was brutally raped and beaten to death by a twice convicted sex-offender hired to do service work in her home. Sue had contracted with a major department store to have the air ducts in her home cleaned.  (The department store) did not conduct criminal background checks on those workers they sent into their clients’ homes.”   For more information, see:  http://www.sueweavercause.org/  

To review the risk management considerations for your screening program, contact Jared Callahan at 415-898-0044 or e-mail him at jcallahan@esrcheck.com

California Case Demonstrates Outer Limits to Negligent Hiring Exposure

The case involved a plumber that was hired in 1999, even though the plumbing company knew the person had been convicted of domestic violence and/or arson involving the plumber’s ex-wife. Four years later, in 2003, the plumber performs a service call at the victim’s home. The plumber and the victim started a relationship that eventually turned romantic in nature.  About a month after the service call with the victim, the plumber was terminated for misuse of a company vehicle, drug and alcohol use and an allegation of threatening a co-worker.

By 2005, the victim apparently had enough and ended the relationship and applied for a restraining order against the plumber. The plumber shot and killed her and was convicted of her murder. Continue reading

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

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

Texas Lawsuit Accuses Apartment Owner of Negligence in Hiring Register Sex Offender as Maintenance Worker that Raped 14 Year Old Girl

According to a storey in the Southeastern Texas Record, a lawsuit has been filed against an apartment building owner in the rape of a tenant, a 14 year old girl, by a maintenance worker that was a registered sex offender.  It was alleged that the employee repeatedly sexually assaulted the victim at knifepoint for an unspecified number of hours. The victim apparently went to the offenses apartment for a tattoo.   The offender has been arrested and is now in jail.   

See: http://www.setexasrecord.com/news/219599-apartment-management-knew-of-sex-offender-on-staff-victims-mother-alleges  

According to the story, the plaintiff has alleged  that the apartment owners “ knew or should have known of Juan Lauderdale’s dangerous and exploitative propensities as a child sexual abuser, and despite such knowledge, negligently retained (Juan) Lauderdale and failed to warn those coming into contact with him, including minor plaintiff and the minor plaintiff’s family, of (Juan) Lauderdale’s propensities.” 

The plaintiff has also alleged that, “ As a direct and proximate result of the sexual assault and the negligent conduct of the defendants, minor plaintiff suffered severe and permanent emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, and other psychological injuries.” The suit says, “These affects are permanent and will abide with the minor plaintiff for her entire life.” 

Keeping in mind that this case is only at the beginning stage, and no factual determinations have been made or any issues litigated, this type of case once again underscores that a higher risk position requires a higher degree of due diligence.  Negligence is essentially a violation of the duty of care, and that duty increase where there is a greater foreseeable risk.   

One of the classic areas where a greater duty of care is needed is apartment buildings where it reasonably foreseeable that great harm can occur if a person with an unsuitable criminal record is entrusted with keys, or has access to tenant under some sort of color of authority.  Based just upon the allegations in the paper, this case may be complicated by an argument that it is not reasonably foreseeable that a worker would entice a young tenant to an apartment, or that such actions were independent of the job duties so that any negligent hiring was not the proximate cause of the injuries.  

These cases can become very complicated depending upon the exact facts that are established through discovery.   Regardless of the final outcome, it does appear that an ounce of prevention can keep this type of situation from occurring the fist place.  

It should be noted that the maintenance worker according to the story was on the sexual offender list due to a sexual offense on young girl in 1996, some 12 years ago.  See the preceding blog about a study that suggests that after a few years, a person is not likely to represent a greater risk then a member of the general population that never offended.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Releases New Training DVD for Background Checks

ESR has released a press release today announcing the release of a professionally produced 36 minute video re-enactment of portions of a negligent hiring trial.

As the press release states,” The DVD of a negligent hiring trial, filmed in an actual courtroom, demonstrates opening statements, cross-examination of an HR professional, testimony from an expert witness, closing arguments, and jury instructions. The DVD includes re-enactment of a crime as caught on a surveillance camera. Part of the training process is for viewers to act as jurors and to deliberate in order to reach a “verdict” based upon the DVD. ”

The press release can be found at: http://www.prleap.com/pr/134931/

Ohio Case on Negligent Hiring Demonstrates that a Higher Risk Requires Greater Due Diligence


According to the April 7, 2009 The Chronicle-Telegram, published in Elyria, Ohio, a negligent hiring lawsuit was filed on behalf of a sleep clinic patient that was sexually molested by a staff member.  The article is at:  http://www.chroniclet.com/2009/04/07/roundup-april-7-2009/

According to the article, the technician is currently facing gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition charges for allegedly molesting five victims. The lawsuit “accuses the sleep clinic of negligence for hiring (the worker) and failing to properly supervise him.” 

The article did not recount the basis for the negligent hiring claim.  However, the case does demonstrate a crucial point about the due diligence and the responsibilities of an employerthe higher the risk, the greater the duty of care. 

Patients in a medical facility are highly vulnerable and therefore at greater risk. Presumably, patients at a sleep clinic are even more vulnerable since they are there to sleep. In deciding how extensively to perform background screening, employers need to consider the risks involved. 

ASIS Selects ESR President as a Presenter at the 2009 ASIS International 55th Annual Seminar

ESR is pleased to announce that its president, Lester Rosen, has been selected to give a presentation at the 2009 ASIS International 55th Annual Seminar and Exhibits (September 21-24, 2009) on Monday, September 21, 2009 at 1:30 PM. It will be held in Anaheim, CA. The presentation will be, “Negligent Hiring Mock Trial.”

The ASIS is the largest and most respected gathering of security professionals in the world, and ESR is pleased to be part of this prestigious event.

Lester S. Rosen is an attorney and president of Employment Screening Resources. He is a writer and frequent presenter nationwide on safe hiring, legal compliance and pre-employment screening. He has testified in court as an expert in safe hiring and is past co-chair of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). He authored “The Safe Hiring Manual-the Complete Guide to Keeping Criminals, Terrorists and Impostors out of Your Workplace,” and the “Safe Hiring Audit.”