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Background checks: Close holes in your employee screens

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in Employment Background Check,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

The frantic competition for workers has caused many companies to become lax about screening job candidates. That's not smart.

Liars, thieves and violent criminals can easily get a foothold in your workplace if you don't do adequate background checks. Additional threat: Skipping the reference check could put you at risk of a "negligent hiring" suit if that bad apple gets violent.

Here are some tips to help you avoid trouble:

Tell applicants upfront that you'll conduct a background check. If that sends them walking out the door, that's good, says Barry Nadell, CEO of Infolink Screening Services of Encino, Calif. (www.infolinkscreening.com). You've just saved yourself time by weeding out potential trouble and prompted those who remain to be more honest in their answers.

When asking for references, request names of people who are familiar with the candidate, not just their past HR department. Ask for names of former supervisors, key vendors or subordinates.

Check every candidate. Many employers check the background only of high-level employees. Nadell argues that "the money that you spend doing background checks on lower-level employees will save you a great deal in pilfering, theft, accidents and workers' compensation."

A recent study of retailers by Jack L. Hayes International, a loss-prevention consulting firm, found that employees steal much more than shoplifters, $847.81 per employee caught compared with $98.81 per shoplifter.

Have all candidates fill out your application, even if they've given you a rÈsumÈ. Reason: You can look for discrepancies between the two documents.

Don't forget about temps. If you use a temporary staffing firm, make sure that it also screens workers. In one study by InfoLink, applicants who applied through a temp agency had 70 percent more "hits" in criminal background searches than other applicants.

Don't confuse referrals with references. Do the same check on candidates referred by co-workers or friends as you do on outsiders. One reason: By doing checks only on certain workers, you set yourself up for a discrimination claim.

Get a written OK. If you're using a third party to do the check, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that you give the applicant a separate, clearly written disclosure and receive written authorization. That's a good idea even if you aren't using an outside agency, Nadell says.

He also advocates having employees sign a broad disclosure and authorization release to conduct a check during the application process and at any time during the person's employment. That way it can also cover such situations as when you're investigating a theft.

If you decide to reject a candidate or fire a worker based on a consumer report, the Federal Trade Commission requires that you give that person a copy of the report and a written description of his rights. Nadell suggests giving the person three to five days to dispute the information. If that person is already working for you, suspend him during that time.

Use the information you discover. As Nadell says, "If you're not going to act on bad information, save your money."

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