In Ohio, an employee of a major fast-food chain sexually assaulted a 3-year-old customer on the property of the restaurant. In Washington, D.C., a grocery store deliveryman assaulted a customer while delivering a phone order.
And in Nebraska, a delivery driver for a major pizza chain raped a woman after delivering a pizza to her home.
In all three cases, the employees had previous sexual-assault convictions on their records. And in all three, a simple background check could have prevented a tragedy and the litigation that followed.
Courts are increasingly holding employers liable for "negligent hiring," or failing to check the background of a prospective employee. In the Nebraska case, the pizza chain was ordered to pay $175,000 to the victim.
"A lot of times, employers argue that a background check is too expensive," said Zuni Corkerton, president of Hilliard, Ohio-based RefCheck Information Services Inc. "But the litigation that comes as a result of not having done their due diligence and having been negligent in their hiring process can be far greater."
Along with turning up convictions for crimes such as sexual assault, a background check can show if a job candidate has been convicted of stealing from a previous employer. A check of a candidate's driving records can show convictions for drunken driving or other traffic violations.
Such information could save a business owner thousands of dollars by avoiding a bad hire. And at a cost of $50 or less for a basic criminal records check, the cost argument carries little weight.
"We still hear it, but the argument is fast going away," said Brad Carlson, vice president of sales and marketing for Minneapolis-based Orange Tree Employment Screening. "All it takes is one theft issue and you can pay for a background screening."
A background check can generally be performed in three or four days, Carlson said, for a cost as low as $9.95 for a basic check.
Even if a bad hire doesn't result in a lawsuit, bad publicity can destroy a business, said Mike McCann, president of New York-based McCann Protective Services.
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"It is important to know what kind of employee you are getting," McCann said. "If you are building a business, you don't want to be in the press because of something negative that happened with one of your employees."
Low cost for due diligence
There is no sure-fire way employers can protect themselves from the occasional dishonest employment candidate, but they can operate with the most due diligence possible.
A basic criminal background check can incorporate state records, county records or both, and can include information such as any felonies or misdemeanors a person has, or whether a person is a registered sex offender.
"If you are doing a basic criminal check and you are doing it well, which means doing a hand search at the county level, you are talking maybe $50," Corkerton said. "It is pretty hard to argue in a court that it was too expensive to do your due diligence."
Motor vehicle reports generally have an instant turnaround time and return three-five years' worth of a driver's history. Information includes speeding tickets and other driving violations, such as drunken driving or whether a person is driving with a suspended license.
Social Security Number verification also can help uncover employee skeletons, experts say.
SSN verification reports give a person's state and residency history. They also give a history of where the person has lived and if the SSN the person provided is valid.
"There have been cases where customers have told us (residential) locations that differ from what has been put on the application," said Stefanie Haggerty, spokeswoman for College Station, Texas-based iiX, provider of information reports to insurance companies and employers.
"Chances are, if the employer looked up the Social Security Number, it would have shown somebody else," Haggerty said. "Utilizing SSN verification gives the employer another screening tool that helps with weeding out dishonest employees."
Often, simply informing a job candidate that an employer will conduct a background check can serve to discourage bad apples.
"Always let job candidates know that a background check will be part of the employment process, or that you employ a company to do thorough background checks," Corkerton said. "That generally encourages them to self-disqualify if there's a problem."