Screening the screeners
The background-screening industry is facing greater scrutiny over the accuracy of its reports, according to industry experts. In 2012 some job seekers claimed that inaccurate criminal background checks prevented them from finding employment.
Accuracy of background-check-report information and greater scrutiny of the screening industry are the No. 1 trend for 2013, said attorney and background-check expert Lester Rosen.
“One of the primary jobs of a professional background screener is to provide accurate and actionable information so that employers can make considered decisions on hiring issues,” said Rosen, author of "The Safe Hiring Manual," a comprehensive guide for employment screening.
Background screening is increasingly the subject of regulation, litigation and legislation, so it is important that employers use knowledgeable providers, Rosen told SHRM Online.
The increased attention in 2012 included the following:
- A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report recommending regulations on data brokers.
- FTC charges against companies for alleged Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations, including the $2.6 million settlement against HireRight Solutions, which represented the first time the FTC charged an employment background-screening firm with violating the FCRA.
- Oversight from the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- An NBC “Today Show” report on background-check errors costing people jobs.
In the HireRight case the FTC charged the company with failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that the information in its reports was current and reflected updates, such as the expunging of criminal records, and failure to follow reasonable procedures to prevent inaccurate consumer-report information from being provided to employers. HireRight also was charged with failing to give candidates copies of their reports, failing to reinvestigate consumer disputes and failing to sufficiently notify consumers when public-record information was used to determine hiring eligibility.
Rosen advises employers to be more diligent in hiring screening firms. “Although the overall accuracy rate for background checks is extremely high, it is still easy for the press to take one or two examples out of millions of reports done every year and create a sensationalistic story,” he said. “But employers need to kick the tires and make sure to ask enough questions about background-check firms they may want to use for employment screening.”
Asking the right questions
The most crucial action you can take to protect your company from providers who engage in questionable screening practices is to ask the right questions, according to a recent white paper published by EmployeeScreenIQ, a Cleveland-based employment-screening company.
A critical area to inquire about is a company’s demonstrated expertise, said EmployeeScreenIQ Executive Vice President Nick Fishman. “A criminal background check can mean anything from a comprehensive county courthouse criminal search to spidering various court sites to commercial database searches. It’s not enough to know that a company offers this service—you need to know how they conduct their research, how they authenticate the information and what they do, if anything, to ensure accuracy,” Fishman told SHRM Online.
Questions to ask that demonstrate expertise, according to Fishman, include:
- How long have you been in business?
- Have you ever been held liable for your business practices? Are you facing active claims?
- Have you ever been sanctioned by a state or federal regulatory agency?
- Are you accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS)? Less than 2% of consumer reporting agencies are NAPBS-accredited, so be sure to ask providers to supply you with documented proof.
- What is the average tenure of your leadership team?
- What is your company’s average criminal-hit percentage?
- What percentage of the applicants you screen dispute the findings of their background checks?
- What is your client-retention rate?
- What is your average turnaround time? How is turnaround time measured?
To help you determine how well a provider is keeping abreast of changing litigation and legislation, ask questions such as:
- How does your company stay compliant with state and federal laws? Can you provide policies and procedures that demonstrate such compliance?
- Describe a recent change in screening guidelines. How did you inform your clients about it?
- Do you have in-house legal counsel?
- Will my company have access to your legal counsel and/or compliance team?
- What type of compliance support do you offer clients?
- What types of client education in this area do you offer?
- Does your company have private-investigator licenses in every state where required? (State-specific licenses are required in Nevada, Arizona and Texas.)
- What is your company’s candidate-dispute rate?
- Describe how your company responds to candidate disputes.
Failing to secure the personal data of consumers and job candidates can be disastrous to a company’s reputation and bottom line. Learn about your potential provider’s practices by asking these critical questions:
- Does your company have documented disaster-recovery procedures?
- Does your company have documented data-protection procedures?
- Has your company ever experienced a data breach?
- Describe your technology platform, and explain how you protect sensitive customer data throughout the ordering process.
- Does your company send offshore any part of the background-screening process, whether operational, service or data entry?
- Have your company’s security policies and procedures ever been audited by a third party?
It’s important that background checks be conducted accurately and with care. Protect your organization by asking potential providers about their practices related to both criminal records and resume verification with questions such as the following:
- Describe your methods for conducting criminal background checks.
- Describe your approach to conducting employment verifications.
When comparing prices and determining the overall value of your options, be sure to ask:
- Specifically, what is included in the price?
- Do you conduct employment verifications? If so, how many employers are included?
- Will you follow up with the applicant if you are unable to complete employment or education verification?
Key technology questions include:
- Are you able to integrate your system with our applicant-tracking/talent-management platforms?
- What options do you offer for order placement?
- What type of training and support do you offer?
- Can your system be customized to support our unique needs?
- How often do you release new system features and functionality?
Evaluating your findings
After all this it’s time to evaluate the responses you’ve received. Companies should meet with potential partners and drill down further on their practices, Fishman said. Every organization will weigh its specific findings differently, according to its unique needs and concerns. EmployeeScreenIQ has three basic guidelines to help determine which providers potentially offer a good fit:
- Verify providers’ claims through independent sources.
- Ask for references, not only from current clients but from those who are no longer using the company’s services.
- Ask for a set of test searches before you make a commitment.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.
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