Background screening services are not all created equal.
Are you working with a background screening service or looking to work with one? To protect both your company and your applicants' rights, make sure the service you work with has these qualities.
When looking for a background screening company to work with, people often ask, "What's the most important thing I should be focusing on?" There are many different opinions on what a comprehensive background check should cover, what products should be used, and how often individual employees or volunteers should be checked. Of course, cost of the product or service is always a concern as well.
In this article, we will explore the significant shortcomings in the background screening industry, some misconceptions surrounding products and services offered by national providers, and what you should be looking to get from your background screening partner.
Shortcomings in the industry
Depending on who you ask, the definition of a comprehensive background check varies widely. You could simply perform a multijurisdictional nationwide check, which searches multiple sources throughout the U.S. You could also choose to run just the applicant's most recent county of residence, sending a court runner to check for any known offenses in that county's records. However, neither of these choices is a comprehensive background screening by any standard.
Let's set a simple baseline for the meaning of a comprehensive criminal background check. To perform the most comprehensive jurisdictional search throughout the U.S., you need to check all sources of criminal data available and all the applicant's past counties of residence. This two-pronged approach gives you both depth and precision for potentially uncovering an applicant's criminal past. The multijurisdictional search (sometimes called a nationwide background check) combs through multiple database sources across the U.S. The single-county search process typically focuses on any of the applicant's previous addresses over the past seven years. Any address associated with that applicant within a different county should be searched.
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Today, most companies only check the background of their employees upon hire. Some check yearly, and even fewer check monthly. The type of market you are in can help to determine frequency, but for this baseline, we would recommend checking all your employees or volunteers on a yearly basis.
Even by following this baseline, there is no silver bullet when it comes to background screening for your organization. Missing applicant information is much more common than you may think. Considering that there are over 3,100 jurisdictions nationwide and none of these sources are required by law to report into one proprietary database, the background screening industry is a bit of a wild west. Some criminal records will be missed, no matter how good your background screening company professes to be. So, when this happens, what steps should your background screening company take to rectify the situation?
A dedicated point of contact
Here is the easiest answer: Your background screening company needs to be available for immediate consultation when issues arise. This may seem like a remedial solution to a complicated issue, but it really is the best service solution for the organization in need. Issues are going to arise – missed records, results that don't make sense to your average user, typos, report misspellings, missing information and, yes, even information reported to you that you shouldn't have seen.
In these cases, you need to talk to a live person. Every background screening organization should offer direct contact to a live resource who can answer questions when you need them – not if you will need them, but when. You should always have an experienced contact on call at your background screening company who you can depend on.
When a record is found through any database search, that record must be verified according the Fair Credit Reporting Act rules and regulations to protect both the organization conducting the background check and the applicant's rights. If you are currently working with a background screening provider that does not verify criminal record information returned by alternate sources, you are putting your organization at serious risk. Many applicants have taken legal action, negatively impacting organizations throughout the U.S., because FCRA rules and regulation standards were violated.
Make sure you are working with an FCRA-compliant company that will consult with you about your program and help you to follow proper process and procedure. Don't be afraid to ask your background screening company, "Have you ever been involved in an employment lawsuit?" You may be surprised at the answers you receive. The lesson here is to stay away from any background screening companies that are not FCRA-compliant, certified organizations.
Another factor to consider is the products you use for your background search. Although many market verticals tend to use various products according to their specific industry, some foundational products have become more consistently used. These are broken up into three principal areas of focus: criminal products, verification products and drug-screening products.
When setting up your background screening program, did you consult with your provider to determine what product set would work best for you and your organization? Do you know why you are using your current type of product? As the background screening industry changes year over year, do you have a live resource to discuss changes in your market and the current needs of your organization? Lastly, do you know how much you are really spending, and does that make good financial sense for your organization? If you are conducting background screening today, then you should have the answers to all these questions. If you don't, that lack of awareness could be negatively impacting your program. At the very least, your background screening company should provide you with a live resource to review your product mix yearly, make recommendations to improve your service and discuss current changes in your industry.
In conclusion, not all background screening companies are the same, nor are they created equally. Live service and rapid operational response are tools that you need from your background screening program. Unfortunately, like in many other service industries, it is only important to have good client service when you absolutely need it. When vetting a new background screening organization for your company, take the time to ask the tough questions. Make sure it has a foundational service model that is there for you when you need it. It will most definitely save you and your organization a significant amount of time, frustration and legal concern in the long run.