• Cheri Corfey

Are Employee Background Checks Effective?


Anybody out there just love to hire a new employee or two? Of course not. Hiring is a pain in your company’s backside – especially when you’re a small- to medium-sized business owner who doesn’t have a separate, full-scale HR department dedicated to employee services.

A positive company culture is essential to running a successful business, and part of nurturing that culture is hiring the right people, with the right experience, skills and personality, so they will stick around for a long while and help to grow your business.

Consider that a recent Career Builder survey stated:

  • 3 out of 4 employers claim they’ve hired the wrong person for a position

  • The cost of a single “bad hire” averages about $17,000

  • 72% of employers use some form of background checks to find the best candidates

So, when do pre-employment background checks come into the picture?

When paired with the right job description, and a thorough and thoughtful application and interview process, background checks are the final step to ensuring you’re hiring an honest prospect, who has accomplished everything they’ve stated on their application - and who doesn’t have any shadowy issues from the past that might haunt their future with your company.

With that said, what exactly is a pre-employment background check, exactly? Is it necessary? Is it even effective?

What is an employee background check?

Typically, an employee background check means working with a professional background check provider, or a private investigator, that runs prospective employees’ social security numbers to turn up a range of information about the individuals’ pasts. There are various tiers of background checks, ranging from basic to complete

Things that turn up on a basic background check include:

  • Criminal record (arrests and convictions)

  • Sex offender records

  • You might also add an education and/or certification/licensure verification step to this part if that is essential for their position. For example, ensuring an RN has an active and valid license.

A complete background check will include the above and will go into more detail, providing:

  • Terrorist watch list check

  • Employee and education verification

  • An in-person county court check going back for a set number of years (typically seven)

Most companies also have add-on services that work like an a la carte menu. They include the above services, as well as:

  • DMV record check – is the employee’s license valid, has it ever been suspended, and/or highlights previous driving violations?

  • Social media check – while you don’t want to be too judgmental, professionals should be aware that a single Google check leads to social media accounts. If publically posted information appears violent, lewd and/or illegal in nature, it’s worth knowing ahead of time.

  • Drug screening

  • Professional license checks

  • Credit report – California is very specific about when employers can and cannot run credit checks on prospective employees without notifying them and obtaining their consent, and you must also fully disclose if the information you uncover will have any bearing on whether or not they’re hired. Visit Nolo.com for more information on this topic.

Always tailor background checks according to the nature of the duties and responsibilities the open position entails.

For example, a receptionist for an office building may only need basic information verified – like education, employment history, etc., to ensure the applicant was honest. An in-home care provider, on the other hand, requires rigorous vetting as that position places clients in a very vulnerable position.

Is a background check necessary?

Yes and no.

As HR Professionals, we believe that some level of background check is absolutely necessary. If nothing else, due diligence will confirm whether or not an applicant has been honest on his or her application; any false information that can’t be confirmed demonstrates the applicant is not a good fit for your honest company.

For example, if your job posting specifies a certain level of education, certification and licensure or work experience – than you should do the work required to verify promising applicants are truly qualified.

If your employee will have access to sensitive information, or a vulnerable client – such as seniors, children, the disabled or someone who is ill – then more intense criminal background and personal reference checks should be completed.

If your employees will be driving the company car, driving others, or making deliveries, a DMV check is a must.

Are pre-employment background checks effective?

Yes, and no. In addition to using a background check company who is experienced and accurate, it’s important that you and/or the background checker you’re working with is discerning.

Consider the following scenario: you’re hiring a candidate for a sales position with your company. He’s 43 years old and the pre-employment qualifications have all checked out. However, his criminal background check shows that 19 years ago, he was arrested and convicted of public intoxication charges. From that point on, the employee record is clear.

Is this grounds for not hiring him? Probably not. A discerning background checker will deduce that this candidate got drunk in college and made a bad decision. Will this impact how he performs on the job almost two decades later?

No. Does it put your company at risk in any way? No.

On the flip side, if you run a home healthcare agency, and a candidate was convicted of check forgery at any point in his/her past, it’s worthwhile to pass on that candidate and move onto the next. In this instance, your reputation is on the line because, should the individual commit a money-related offense with a client, your company would be liable - you reviewed a criminal record, saw an offense that threatens the well-being of future clients, and hired the individual anyway.

Again, working with an HR Professional will help you discern which criminal offenses, or “negative” marks on a background check are relevant and which ones aren’t.

The goal, as always, is to find the most qualified candidate integrates into your existing team and will provide years – if not decades – of good service to your company.

ZAP is here to facilitate your pre-employment screening process, as well as a range of services that help business owners and management effectively manage your HR compliance and employee relations needs. Contact us to learn more.


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