Background Checks

Late last year, the Society of Human Resource Management released an article about the increasing trend toward background screening throughout an employee’s tenure at a company. This approach, also called “infinity screening,” is a sharp departure from the traditional approach of background screening only during the hiring phase.

There are many reasons why companies might want to screen current employees periodically. Although many firms rescreen only in response to a change in status, such as a promotion, others do so in response to a workplace accident or other negative incident—or to minimize the odds of post-hire insider problems ranging from embezzlement or security breaches to worker violence. However, the trend toward repeat screening on a scheduled basis is fairly new.

Whether the popularity of this approach will continue to increase is unclear, but we think it is likely. Screening is a sound practice, and with background checks becoming easier and more affordable, there is no reason for organizations not to protect themselves, especially with employees in positions of trust.

Nevertheless, there are important issues that business leaders should consider before they initiate an infinity screening program.

  • When credit reports are pulled and other background checks are conducted, the individual must be given notice, agree to the activities, and have the opportunity to clarify and/or correct negative information. Companies that plan ongoing screening should have “evergreen” language in their consent forms that inform personnel they might be subject to additional screening procedures.
  • Job applications and employee handbooks should state clearly that any material falsehood or omission on an application or during the hiring process can result in termination—no matter when it is uncovered.
  • Unless both ongoing screening and post-hire termination for falsehoods are outlined in written policies given to all employees, organizations may have difficulty dismiss employees when pre-hire falsehoods are discovered or if they refuse a post-hire background check or other screen.

Additionally, continual screening can have a negative effect on morale unless handled sensitively—and it can put the organization at risk if not conducted equitably. Some companies may decide that this approach isn’t necessary at their firms. Those who opt to perform ongoing screening should be clear with personnel that the purpose is to ensure worker and company safety—and that the requirement does not imply distrust.