More new hires at the University of Iowa (UI) – including faculty positions as well as merit, professional, and scientific staff – could face criminal background checks under a proposed policy expansion approved by the University’s Faculty Council, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. UI’s current background check policy implemented in 2005 applies only to finance or medical positions designated as “security sensitive.” The full article is available on the Iowa City Press-Citizen website at: http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20121017/NEWS01/310170036/UI-hires-will-face-criminal-background-checks. Continue reading
A new background check policy at Penn State University (PSU) that took effect July 5, 2012 – HR99, “Background Check Process” – requires final job candidates and third-party employees who are offered employment to undergo a criminal background check that includes a criminal history check and child abuse record check before approval, according to a report on the Penn State Live website, the university’s official news source. The new PSU background check policy is available at http://guru.psu.edu/policies/OHR/hr99.html. Continue reading
By Lester Rosen, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) President
Institutions of higher education such as colleges and universities bear the same risk as other employers when it comes to hiring employees. Due diligence in hiring, including employment screening background checks, is critical for any organization seeking to avoid workplace violence, negligent hiring lawsuits, or any repercussions from hiring employees with unsuitable criminal records or false academic credentials.
Since colleges and universities have a higher duty of care when it comes to hiring given their special role in society to provide a safe place of learning for young people, these institutes should avoid the ten biggest mistakes that higher education Human Resources (HR) professionals make in the area of background screening of staff members:
- No. 1 – Assuming all screening firms are the same
The mistake of assuming all background screening firms are the same is like saying that all schools are the same and a fake degree from a “diploma mill’ is as good as a degree from a school with a legitimate accreditation. In selecting a background screening firm, higher education HR professionals need to make sure the firm belongs to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) and if it is accredited by the NAPBS Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) for compliance with the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). Higher education HR professionals may also want to see if a background screening firm – also referred to as a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) – is a member of ConcernedCRAs and demonstrates a commitment not to “offshore” job applicant personal data overseas beyond U.S. laws.
- No. 2 – Assuming database searches for criminal records are adequate protection
One of the biggest fallacies is the untrue premise that database searches are real criminal background checks. Even Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database searches using fingerprints of job applicants can result in missed records since it relies in great part upon the accuracy and timeliness of reports made by state and local jurisdictions. Commercial privately assembled multi-jurisdictional commercial databases used by higher education HR departments can be full of holes since they are a crazy quilt of information complied from a variety of sources with no guarantee that the data is complete, updated, timely, or accurate. Large swaths of the country are not included in these databases and they are subject to both “false positives” and “false negatives,” meaning that criminals can come back as “cleared” and innocent job applicants can be falsely labeled as criminals.
- No. 3 – Assuming a job applicant’s privacy is protected and personal information is kept within United States borders
Many background firms ship personal data of job applicants such as names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers (SSNs) outside of the U.S. for processing in order to save money. In recent years, there has been a substantial effort in the U.S. to protect what has come to be known as “Personally Identifiable Information” or PII. Unfortunately, these protections cease to exist as a practical matter once PII leaves the U.S. The lack of any meaningful protection once data is “offshored” is a major gap in the effort to combat identity theft. When identity theft occurs in the U.S., legal protections, resources, laws, and mechanisms help victims. Once data goes offshore, that protection dissipates rapidly. A reputable background screening firm should believe that risking PII to make more money is not justified by the potential damage to the consumer and the potential liability to the educational institution.
- No. 4 – Assuming you need to have applicants sign a physical piece of paper
There is a “green” solution to the significant logistical challenges faced by institutions of higher learning that are hiring across numerous departments of large campuses, or even across multiple campuses. With the new technology available right now, background screening can be performed by a completely paperless system. For example, if a school uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), a button can be added that says “Perform Background Check.” Releases can be handled online as well with a legally valid E-Sign electronic signature, so that no paperwork is involved whatsoever.
- No. 5 – Assuming temporary employees have already been screened by staffing firms
When a staffing firm uses the term “screening,” it may simply mean they are trying to match up applicants with your list of needs – not that they are performing due diligence background checks. It is crucial for higher education HR professionals to have staffing firms clearly specify what types of background checks they are doing, if any, including: who is ordering them, what searches are being conducted, who is reviewing reports, and what criteria is being used to decide who is eligible to work. Another best practice is to ask the staffing firm to include the school, college, or university in the language of the background release so that the HR professional can review the completed reports as well. Even though the worker is on the staffing firm payroll, a college or university can still be considered a “co-employer” and be on the hook for any crimes or misconduct.
- No. 6 – Assuming that contacting past employers is not beneficial
Not checking those businesses or institutions where the applicant has worked for the past seven-to-ten years can be a big mistake for higher education HR professionals. Some HR professionals assume that since past employers are reluctant to give reference information that such calls provide little value. But there are many instances where past employment verifications can be just as valuable as a criminal records search. These include verifying dates of employment and job titles, confirming a job applicant’s whereabouts for the past seven to ten years, making certain there are no “unexplained gaps” in employment, and determining which jurisdictions to search for criminal records.
- No. 7 – Assuming international background checks are too difficult
With the increased mobility of workers across international borders it is no longer adequate to conduct due diligence checks just in the United States. Based on the ‘Place of Birth of the Foreign-Born Population: 2009’ report issued in October 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 38.5 million foreign-born U.S. residents, representing 12.5 percent of the population. In addition, an increasing number of workers have spent a significant part of their professional career abroad. Because of the perceived difficulty in performing international employment screening, some employers have not attempted to verify international credentials or to perform foreign criminal checks. However, the mere fact that information may be more difficult and expensive to obtain from outside the U.S. does not relieve employers such as colleges and universities of due diligence obligations.
- No 8 – Assuming “one size fits all” for background checks
While HR processionals live by the rule that similarly situated people must be treated in a similar fashion, that does not mean all employees must undergo the same background check. It is perfectly acceptable to screen CEOs more intensely than janitors, as long as all CEOs are screened the same and all janitors are screened the same. The typical rule is that a higher degree of risk justifies, and may require, a higher level of background check. In considering the level of background screening, higher education HR professionals need to weigh the potential risks of the position. Examples of positions with of greater risk include workers with access to: student dorm rooms; personal or financial data; vulnerable groups such as the aged, young, or infirmed; and uniforms that may allow them to act under color of official authority.
- No. 9 – Assuming the Internet and social networking sites can be used without limitations
Many employers have discovered that the internet can provide what appears to be a treasure trove of information when it comes to recruiting and hiring. By using search engines and social networking sites, recruiters are often able to source candidates for positions and use the Internet to pre-screen job applicants. However, in using the Internet for background screening, employers can uncover “TMI” or “Too Much Information” that reveals prohibited information such as ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, religious preference, or other factors that cannot be considered for employment. Social network sites such as Facebook may contain a photo that reveals personal characteristics or physical problems and raise questions of discrimination as well. Other concerns with using the internet for background screening include issues of privacy, off-duty conduct, and “cyperslamming” where defamatory material is placed anonymously online. Some schools now have a policy of requiring employers to reveal whether they do such online searches as a condition for recruiting at the school. One alternative is to get specific consent from applicants for an online search, and only after a conditional job offer.
- No. 10 – Assuming it costs too much to do real due diligence
Although cost is an important factor in business, it is usually not advisable to choose the cheapest provider for any professional service since, as the old saying goes: “You get what you pay for.” It is especially true for an information-based and heavily regulated industry like background screening. Key criteria for selecting a background screening firm should be knowledge, training, experience, and privacy policies – not cost-cutting.
For more information on background checks in general, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.
Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco area, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen and is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) . To learn more about Employment Screening Resources, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com or contact Jared Callahan, ESR Director of Client Relations, at 415.898.0044 or jcallahan@ESRcheck.com.
By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer
After the University of Virginia’s president recently announced that the school would perform background checks on students in the wake of the tragic murder of a female student â€“ allegedly at the hands of a fellow student â€“ lawmakers in neighboring Maryland may soon require that universities in that state conduct background checks on students.
According to a report on WJLA ABC 7 News in Arlington, Virginia, the suspect in the University of Virginia killing â€“ a male lacrosse player the same age as the victim, 22, who was also a lacrosse player â€“ was arrested in 2008 after a drunken altercation with a police officer. But the accused killer failed to tell university officials about the arrest.
Presently, according to the WJLA report, many universities â€“ like the University of Maryland â€“ merely ask students if they have a criminal history. If students admit to a crime, school officials say that they are screened further. Otherwise, officials at the university may not know if students have previous convictions.
Upon hearing that Maryland’s state lawmakers may require state universities to conduct background checks on students, some interviewed in the article agreed that background checks for college students are a good idea. â€œIf they have a history you can say maybe there’s a pattern…â€ one person said, â€œand they won’t do it again.â€
WJLA reports officials at Frostburg State University in Glen Burnie, Maryland were considering whether the school should seek criminal information from applicants before a recent off-campus shooting during which one student at the school died and another was injured. However, the alleged shooter in that case did not have a criminal history.
WJLA also reports that it has not heard of any current plans at the University of Maryland to require background checks on students.
By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer
According to reports from HuffingtonPost.com and the Washington Post, the University of Virginia will perform background checks on all students at the school following the alleged murder of a 22-year-old female student and lacrosse player, possibly at the hands of her former boyfriend, a 22-year-old fellow student who was also a lacrosse player.
In the wake of the tragic death, the Virginia Governor and University of Virginia President will discuss tougher laws on how to protect students from violence. The Baltimore Sun reported that: Among the topics may be legislation requiring police to report student arrests to the university.
The accused ex-boyfriend who reportedly had a violent streak had attacked the victim two months earlier at a party, according to an eyewitness account in the Washington Post, an incident that was never reported to police or school officials.
The suspected killer also had a run-in with the police before his ex-girlfriend’s death, according to the Post, something a routine background check would have uncovered. He was arrested in 2008 after threatening to kill a female police officer and ended up Tasered and handcuffed. He later pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and resisting arrest.
According to theses reports, the University President admitted the school was unaware of the accused killer’s criminal past. He also said that, under school policy, students are required to self-report arrests and convictions, and a regulation in the student code of regulations requires that kind of report. However, the suspect in the beating death failed to report his previous arrest, and no one at the University checked up on him. In addition, the University’s police department never received any notice of that arrest, and the athletic coaches at the school had no knowledge of it or whether it had been disclosed.
The Post reported that the University President that there were gaps in this system and that the school would begin, at a minimum, to screen students not just athletes with background checks against a state law enforcement database before each semester.