Employee background checks go hi-tech

Aug. 14, 2006
When David Taitte was convicted of raping a woman to whom he had delivered a pizza, jurors in Omaha, Neb., decided that the Domino's Pizza shop where he worked was negligent and awarded $175,000 to the victim. Domino's had hired Taitte despite a record that included driving violations and a conviction for attempted first-degree sexual assault on a child. He even was jailed just four months before he was hired for allegedly stalking a woman he met while delivering for Home Team Pizza. Domino's, the jury found, never conducted a background check.
More than 96 percent of HR professionals report their companies do background checks on new hires, up from 66 percent in 1996, according to The Society for Human Resource Management Workplace Violence Survey. Yet for hourly workers in the pizza industry, "don't ask, don't tell" seems a common policy.
Tim Gayhart, a

What's Important

Many new hire background checks are essential for pizzerias of every size, plus they're more affordable than ever.

Web-based background search services are less expensive and markedly faster than manual searches.

Employers must, however, handle all private information carefully. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse's comprehensive fact sheet on background checks is a useful tool for determining what is fair and what isn't. For more information, visit privacyrights.org/fs/fs16-bck.htm.

Snappy Tomato Pizza franchisee, has six units all in rural communities, and he sees little use conducting in-depth background checks for hourlies when most employees are referred by current ones. Many are family members in towns averaging 1,300 citizens, where "everybody knows everybody. But I can see where it would be important for those in larger communities, where there are more transient populations as well as higher crime rates."
Many like Gayhard see background checks as time-consuming and costly. But there are online services that represent advancing technology behind background checks and offer an affordable and nearly hassle-free option.
"Background checks are less time-consuming and less expensive due to technology," said Timothy A. Dimoff, president and chief executive of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services. "Yet most pizza operators and business owners in general are confused about how to process pre-employment background checks."
The online option makes the job easier. Backgroundchecks.com touts on its Web site that it has the largest nationwide database of criminal records in America with more than 245 million records. Court researchers from across the country provide information that is included in the database.
After registering at backgroundchecks.com, users are provided a customizable "dashboard" on the screen with a "search" box that requires input of the applicant's name and state of residence (age is optional). One or more reports are generated, including a U.S. Background Report, National Criminal Report, Single State Criminal Report and Nationwide Sex Offender Report. An "instant criminal search" and "SSN validation" is also available.
The Backgroundchecks.com Web application also offers a user-friendly "Inbox" that lists reports as they are generated, each with a person's name as the subject. Users also can search for people's names and their reports.
The benefits offered by online providers such as Washington Research Associates Inc., which operates the Background Check Gateway (www.backgroundcheckgateway.com) and offers a similar working platform as backgroundchecks.com, is cost savings. "Backgrounding" someone has traditionally been a tedious process best left to information brokers and private investigators, who may charge up to $250 for a basic package that includes verifying a candidate's identity, checking references and former employers, and verifying social security numbers against public records.
Today, public records are available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection, and costs per search range from $8 to $120, depending on the extent of information requested.
Keeping current
Joel Goldberg, president of Aurico Reports, a pre-employment screening and investigative firm, cautions that the information used in some online databases may be too old to be useful. "It's hard to tell what information is really up to date and what's years old."
Calls to Backgroundchecks.com were not returned, but on its Web site the company notes that data, by nature, may not be current "due to the lag between the time a suspect is charged or case has been concluded and the time the data is actually reported to state, county and federal agencies." Because of this, the company recommends "performing a hand search at the county level, in addition to the instant search, to ensure data collected and reported is complete and up-to-date."
It is also important to know how often data is updated by the state, local or federal agency reporting the data. Databases can be updated as frequently as daily or as infrequently as semi-annually. Descriptions of each source and how often data is scheduled to be updated should be obtained from the
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online provider.
But even older databases can be useful for such tasks as skip tracing, which searches for a person's previous addresses. Public records such as utility bills and rent payments that are linked to a physical address are stored in these databases indefinitely, making it possible to confirm or deny addresses listed on an application. Inconsistencies are red flags regarding the application's veracity.
Proprietary software firms such as AbsoluteHire offer products ideal for mid- to large-size chains. Data updates, those companies claim, update data automatically. The software can be integrated over a network or online to include screening and recruiting purposes. Federal and state-level compliance is built into the system, and reports can be turned around in under two days, although some, such as general consumer reports, can be generated instantly. Such products are available for a fee ranging from $25 to $40 per check.
Sounds pricy for your small pizzeria? Maybe not, if it helps yours avoid making a bad hire.
"Just because you may be a small-volume operator, don't think that the internal and legal issues won't ever happen to you if you don't screen applicants," said Dimoff. "In fact, we see it happen every day to those types of business owners, and they're calling us after it's happened, which is much more expensive and time consuming than anything they'd encountered. Don't be reactive, be proactive."
Legal points
In addition to headline-grabbing stories, failing to conduct background checks can result in problems such as negligent-hiring lawsuits. Investigating backgrounds before hiring greatly reduces the risk of liability for the actions of a new employee, primarily due to compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Under this law, a business is required to have employees sign a disclosure form granting authorization to perform a background check. This is not restricted to credit reports but includes all "consumer reports." If conducting your own online background checks, consult with local regulators and legal counsel before going too deep into the criminal past of a new hire. (See sidebar.)
Before taking action such as denying employment based on a background report, an employer must provide an applicant a copy of the report and a written description of his or her rights under the FCRA. A copy of the notice can be found in 16 C.F.R. Pt. 698, App. F or by accessing http://ftc.gov (under "Contents" on the home page, click on "Legal Resources," then "FTC Rules (16-999)," then scroll down to "Part 698-Model Forms").
Be warned,

Web-based resources

Popular social-networking Web sites have become sources for background info. A recent National Association of Colleges and Employers poll found that 26.9 percent of employers check the backgrounds of job applicants by using Google and sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Of the employers who said they use Web sites, 41.2 percent reported occasional use, 35.3 percent said their use was infrequent and 7.4 percent called it standard practice.

however, that violations of the FCRA can result in civil penalties of up to $2,500 in an action brought by the FTC. Individuals can sue for willful violation of the law to recover actual damages they suffer up to $1,000, plus punitive damages, attorney fees, and costs awarded by the court. Individuals also can sue for emotional distress and loss of reputation.
As a result of the rising problem of identity theft, it is now illegal to retain any paperwork gathered for background checks. Effective June 1, 2005, the FCRA required any such information to be destroyed.
Lie detection
According to a survey from Milwaukee consulting firm Jude M. Werra & Associates, hourly employees aren't the only ones embellishing on their job applications; its research found even executive-level resumes are doctored nearly 11 percent of the time. Goldberg cites studies that show a full third of all applications are falsified.
"Not only that," Goldberg added, "but 20 percent of adults in the United States have criminal records. When you consider that one out of every six crimes committed occurs in the workplace, verifying someone's past becomes critical."
What if it were possible to require job candidates to hand in certified fib-free resumes and applications? A handful of firms provide certifiably true resumes, a new concept that allows companies to spot story tellers before they schedule the first interview. Certification happens after job seekers send their resumes to a certification firm (for a fee of about $40) for verification of educational, career and criminal history. For the employer, requesting resumes are certified means a no-cost proposition because the job seekers pay the fee for certification.
"There needs to be a true pre-employment screening tool out there," said Jared Fletcher, founder of Weston, Fla.-based ResTrust, a CV certification firm. "The only tool the individual uses is his resume. So why isn't his resume certified?"

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