Before running an employee check, decide if it’s a risk mitigator or money waster.
By Debbie Bolla
How well do you know your employees? It’s a tough question that more and more organizations are grabbling with. One solution that employers are turning to is total workforce screening, which includes both initial and annual backgrounding. According to HireRight’s 2012 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report, 34 percent of respondents perform background checks on current employees, and experts in the field believe the trend is growing. It’s a step toward furthering risk management and maintaining a safe working environment for employees and clients.
“Since a background check is a snapshot in time, employers should be interested in ongoing screening to help identify employees who may commit crimes that would have precluded their initial hire,” notes Steven James, founder and chief operating officer of Background Profiles. “If an employee commits a crime one year after hire, that might pose a problem or threat to the safety of other employees. The employer should have the right to be aware of the change.”
Certain industries are more prone to receive the value of investing in annual background screens. “While screening current employees appears to be a practice in just over a third of companies, it is most prominent in certain regulated industries such as health care, transportation, and financial services,” notes Diana Acuna, product manager for HireRight. “For example, motor carriers are required to conduct periodic drug and health screenings and motor vehicle records checks, and healthcare organizations are required to regularly conduct sanctions checks on workers who provide patient care.”
Eric Frehe is in the business of referring and placing registered nurses and healthcare technicians for assignments, and understands the power of ongoing background screening. The chief operating officer for Registry Network works with provider Background Profiles to screen all of its contract employees on an annual basis.
“When we started with more travel nursing and bringing nurses out of state, they would come for three months and do an assignment, then come back,” he recalls. “There would be a lapse in employment—it could be six months to a year. That’s when we decided to do annual backgrounds on these individuals.”
And the expense has paid off. “We have found somebody that has a bench warrant,” he notes. “It was traffic related and we worked with them to get it cleared. We don’t want to preclude hiring them—just help them take care of their problem. It provides peace of mind, proving we are placing the best people possible.”
M. Scott Hall, senior vice president and chief operating officer for FirstPoint Information and Background Screening Resources, points out that industries that work with children, such as school systems, also find value in annual screenings. “The employee arrested over the weekend for driving while impaired is the one driving the school bus on Monday morning,” he says. “More often than not, when a work place violence situation occurs, it occurs from the existing employee ranks. How would you know or ever learn of the arrest if you do not monitor your existing employee group?”
The Negligent Retention Risk
Safety and risk mitigation is a consideration—two of the most common drivers of background screening in general. “Companies screen current workers on recommendation from their legal counsel in an effort to create a safe environment, not only for their clients, but also for their employees,” says Gary Becher, vice president of sales and marketing of TriCor Employment Screening.
Avoiding potentially harmful situations from negligent retention is another benefit of total workforce screening. “Negligent retention is based in part on the premise that employers will do what is reasonably necessary to remain aware of the status and qualifications of their employees,” explains Acuna. “If an employee steals, causes harm to employees, customers, patients, or physical property, and there is evidence that this behavior could have been identified by performing ongoing checks, an employer’s risk could be increased because they ‘should have known.’ Recurring background checks can serve as a solution for mitigating the legal risks associated with negligent retention. It helps reduce a company’s ongoing retention risks by demonstrating reasonable diligence to stay well-informed of employee activity and qualifications throughout the employment lifecycle.”
When an employee is considered for a promotion, forward-thinking organizations are considering screening that employee for the new role. The position may call for new access to highly sensitive material or information that could cause the company risk if inappropriately used. Or it may require a credential or course credit that needs to be confirmed. “Some companies simply verify the information that made the employee eligible for a promotion is accurate,” says Becher. “For instance, if someone was eligible for a high-level position after they completed a degree or certificate, that information should be verified to make sure the employee is in fact qualified.”
The same goes for companies considering an employee transfer. “If a company is transferring an employee to more visible role or to a role of greater potential risk such as working with vulnerable populations, then conducting an up-to-date background screen is good due diligence,” says Hall.
Various factors should be taken into consideration if your organization moves forward with annual background screening:
Consent is key. “The same FCRA [Fair Credit Reporting Act] regulations along with applicable state and local laws still apply in a monitoring process of employees as they do in the hiring process of a new employee,” says FirstPoint’s Hall. “First and foremost, the employee must provide their consent for the ongoing monitoring. Employers need to have written policies of what is and is not allowed based on the results of the monitoring process. Then, if a potential issue occurs due to monitoring, the employee must be given the opportunity to address the issue to determine in fact [it is true] and the circumstances behind what was discovered is similar to pre-adverse action in the hiring process.”
Keep cost and relevancy in mind. “To keep costs reasonable, a company should determine what information is relevant to the business/position and could put the company at risk,” says HireRight’s Acuna. “For example, if previous employment has been verified, there probably is no reason to check again. However, checking for criminal records would be relevant to most any employer. It also serves as an integrity check. Many employers rely on employees to self-disclose.”
Think about compliance. “We always recommend that you talk to your legal counsel to make sure your background screening program is compliant,” explains TriCor’s Becher. “Your legal team can help you tailor a background screening program that is functional and based on your specific business needs.”
Communicate and be consistent. “Clearly communicate that annual background checks will be done on all employees,” says Background Profiles’ James. “Ensure your policies and processes are consistently applied to all employees and do not disproportionately impact minorities or protected classes as per EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] guidelines.”
Contractors count too. “It’s an industry best practice that recurring screening be conducted on the entire workforce, including the extended workforce, which would include part-time workers, contractors, and vendor and partner employees who have access to an organization’s data, facilities, and personnel. The extended workforce should be screened to the same standards as traditional full-time employees, both before hire and for ongoing screening,” says Acuna.
And if every year isn’t in your budget, think about spacing apart total workforce screens. “As a best practice, organizations should conduct background checks on current workers every two years,” she concludes.