Background Checks


 Recent news stories involving both private suppliers of background checks and private companies who conduct their own background checks have come under fire by Congress and the EEOC.  In one instance, the government used an outside firm to do background checks that were incomplete and failed to uncover information that one would ordinarily expect the outside firm to find easily.  Regarding the two private sector employers, the allegation is that criminal background checks were used to discriminate unfairly against African Americans.
 What seems to be going on is a version of what I described in my last piece about being “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”  Using a criminal background check is an appropriate thing for employers to do, but care must be exercised to insure that the criminal background check is used properly and not as a convenient way to disqualify applicants across the board on the basis of a criminal conviction.  This is a perfect example of how some employers take the easy way out in the hiring process by whittling down the applicant pool without regard to any of the criteria about which I wrote last time – like how long ago the conviction occurred, how serious it was, if there are a series of convictions, and whether or not the conviction was for a violent crime against another person.

 Of equal importance is the thoroughness with which a background check is conducted.  There are all sorts of very large background checking companies that provide their services to the government.  The problem, of course, is the larger the company, the greater the likelihood that quality control will go by the wayside for any of a variety of reasons,  not the least of which is the urgency placed on the company by the government to produce results.  As a result, accuracy and thoroughness become the victims of speed!
 As a practical matter, it’s far better to sacrifice a little speed to help insure that the best people are hired – the first time.  Furthermore, once someone is hired by the federal government, it’s almost impossible to get rid of the employee who, perhaps, should not have been hired in the first place.

 In both instances cited, it would have been an easy matter to correct the sloppy procedures by using a smaller company where quality and thoroughness are the foundation of their reputation.  For private employers, regardless of how thorough the information provided, either by an internal criminal background check or by relying on an outside firm, care still must be used to avoid using the results in a way that discriminates against an entire group of people.