The vast majority of employers run pre-employment background checks. Even companies that don’t screen regularly agree that they are a helpful way to build a successful workforce. The news is filled with stories that show malpractice in the workplace when it could have been prevented with a simple background check.
As an employer, it would be convenient if you could hire any company to conduct pre-employment background checks and be confident that the safety net will provide you with all the tools to make an informed hiring decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The problem is that not every background check is the same. There is not one source or mystical database where all background screening professionals go to for consistent, up to date criminal record information. In fact, the concept of “background checks” is incredibly ambiguous and doesn’t speak at all to the quality or accuracy of the information produced by conducting one. A hiring official’s due diligence cannot reach its full potential unless the background checks he or she orders utilizes the most foolproof techniques and channels to find and verify criminal records.
Below is an example of trustworthy background investigation tools that employers can count on for most standard background check needs. Also included are tools that have a place, but should be used cautiously. Employers should ensure their background screening provider can strategically implement these tools.
1. Developing the Subject’s Profile/Identity
To begin an accurate, cost-effective criminal record search, a background screening company must find out where an applicant has lived, worked, or gone to school in the past 7-10 years, which is the standard industry timeframe. Employers can request this information from job applicants on an application, but to ensure no information is falsified they can request their social security trace search. A social security trace search is an excellent preliminary tool for background checks. It not only verifies the identity of the individual, and any alias names, but it also reports past residences of the applicant, this is crucial for step number two.
2. Retrieving Criminal Records
After the application process, the background screening company requests records from the counties of applicant’s past residences. County records are the most detailed, accurate, and up-to-date searches available.
Studies show that, on average, most people person only live in two or three counties during a seven-year period. For most companies, it is more efficient to verify information of all counties lived in by the applicant and possibly all nearby “touch” counties during the past seven years. Any additional information usually outweighs the cost.
3. Gaining More Coverage with State Repositories
Statewide repository searches are also fairly reliable. A Statewide search offers greater geographical coverage than county searches. However, state repositories receive their information from local law enforcement agencies and the local courts. This means that a middleman distributes the data in state searches, whereas counties are the direct source. State repository records might be incomplete due to manpower shortages, transmission delays, local privacy laws, and lack of enforcement authority.
As official records, county searches and state repository searches are the most reliable background check tools.
4. Strategically Using Database Searches to Keep Compliance
Another tool for locating criminal records is a database search. While employers can search nationwide for an applicant’s criminal record, use caution.
Database reports may not be accurate and are not as reliable as the direct source. Because criminal databases have multiple source contributors, there is no regulation or responsibility to update these records. Some jurisdictions don’t even report information to public databases and they may contain incomplete records.
Never use database searches as the only source for locating criminal records. Always confirm every database record directly with the jurisdiction or county where the record was found. This is the only compliant way to utilize database information. The Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits employers from making a hiring decision based solely on a database search. Be wary of companies that offer instant database criminal records as reliable pre-employment screening.
3. Verifying Criminal Records
Employers should know that false positives, including undiscovered records, can populate in background checks if a background screening provider has no review process. Criminal record matching is typically achieved by matching the applicant’s name and date of birth to the record. Those are the identifiers most commonly found on court records. However, knowledgeable applicants with a criminal past may supply fraudulent information such as an incorrect date of birth to hide an offense. Credit headers and social security traces can confirm a date of birth, but may not be free from error. Driving records are a very reliable source for date of birth confirmation. Background screening agencies may find other verification tools necessary on a case-by-case basis.
Background checks are important but are only as useful as the tools used to obtain information.
Different industries and unique situations mean the investigation process varies, but with any circumstance, there is a “right” or “best” method to search for an applicant’s criminal history. Seek out a screening company that understands the complexities of background screening tools. Together, you can formulate the most accurate and efficient background check process to build a successful workforce.