Another aspect of background screening that can confuse employers is the fact that there is no standardization as to what background firms are offering. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to compare offerings from different background firms without an insider’s knowledge of how screening works.

For example, some screening firms offer a “package” where they will do an “unlimited” amount of criminal searches for a fixed fee. To an employer who does not understand how this works, there may be a temptation to simply choose the firm offering the cheapest price or the best package.

However, that can be a big mistake because as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” Without knowing exactly how it works, an employer can find they are on the receiving end of a bad deal that profits the screening firm and exposes them to allegations of negligent hiring.

Here is why employers need to ask questions before blindly assuming that a cheap “package” price is a good deal:

First, are the counties being searched “derived” or “developed?” A “derived” search means that the screening firm is simply looking at addresses and jurisdictions that come up in some sort of social security trace report. A “developed” search means a screening firm also adds in those counties where a person has worked. Obviously, firms that do a “developed” search are likely doing more searches and giving more protection. Firms trying to save money at an employer’s expense will do a “derived” search only, and the employer will be none the wiser.

Secondly, an employer needs to understand what databases the screening firm is using to establish past addresses. If the screening firm is utilizing a credit bureau’s social trace, that is likely to produce less address information. That works to the advantage of a screening firm because they do fewer searches and therefore make more money. On the other hand, the employer has less protection. An employer is better off using a screening firm that utilizes an address information manager that may have many more jurisdictions to search.

A third consideration is how the records are checked. If the screening firm is using a database in order to save money, there is a real possibility that relevant information will be missed or incorrect information reported. Although databases can be valuable because they can lead to the discovery of information and additional places to search, databases are inherently not as accurate as court searches. Databases do not cover all jurisdictions, do not always contain identifiers, such as date of birth, and are not always updated with the latest information. Court searches are based upon the actual information at the courthouse and are the most accurate.

As with anything else, if a deal is too good to be true, it may not be the real thing. Employers may get baited into an “unlimited” seven year search, and switched into a search that does not protect them. For more information, contact ESR to find out about real background checks that do not take short cuts.

(Next month, another Trap for the Unwary will be reviewed—the use of home operators for verification calls. Employers should very carefully consider the dangers of using a screening firm that utilizes at-home operators for domestic verifications.)

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