10 Tips for Conducting Better Background Checks

University, school and hospital security professionals can work with their human resources departments to establish background screening policies that are fair and equitable to everyone. Consistency and clear documentation as well as the best practices that follow are the keys to acceptance of a policy that protects the public and staff while making a campus more secure.

An applicant for a nursing position revealed on the self-reported section of her job application that she had received a traffic ticket. Somehow when completing her employment application, she neglected to remember her convictions for fraud from the elderly and credit card theft. These “oversights” were discovered in her background check.

Another job applicant gave his name as Marvin in order to disguise the fact that he was a registered sex offender under his real name, Melvin. He also transposed two digits of his Social Security number (SSN) to trip up investigators, but a thorough background check revealed the truth.

Conversely, a New Mexico applicant who appeared to have numerous arrest warrants associated with his SSN was shown to be innocent by a background investigation that revealed the use of the young man’s SSN by his father, the actual suspect.

These cases are among the thousands that clearly demonstrate why background screening has become so popular among American companies and institutions. In fact, roughly 85 percent of large companies in the United States conduct some level of background check on their job applicants. And, interestingly, statistics show that by a phenomenon called adverse selection, criminals are more attracted to institutions in which they are least likely to be discovered — where comprehensive background checking procedures are not in place.

Nowhere is background screening more important than in institutions that directly impact the public, such as hospitals and educational facilities. In fact, undisclosed criminal records among some employees in institutions of higher learning have prompted some states to consider legislation requiring criminal background checks for all college faculty and staff.

But all background checking is not created equal. Applying screening haphazardly and without a carefully formulated plan can leave the public vulnerable and the institution liable for criticism or litigation. It is important to avoid such pitfalls and make background screening an accepted and automatic part of the hiring process and campus security. Security professionals, along with their associated human resources (HR) and hiring departments, can do this by developing a carefully considered background screening policy using best practices.

It’s important that there be a complete procedure and solution in place through which each applicant must be assessed. While it’s changing rapidly, some institutions conduct criminal records searches by simply checking the institution’s local county and state database. Today, however, most organizations understand the importance of implementing a comprehensive screening program that provides a more complete verification of an applicant’s background.

Adoption of best practices clearly demonstrates the institution applies its screening standards fairly, with cause, without prejudice, and in compliance with all legal requirements. A large-scale screening management program also helps healthcare and educational institutions track, monitor and ensure consistency in the screening process. This article examines 10 employee background screening best practices that can be adapted to the individual needs and policies of nearly every campus environment.

1. Establish a Standard Background Screening Policy
Having a standard, mandatory background screening policy for every employee in an institution, from faculty members and physicians to part-time staff, not only provides clear guidelines for security, recruiting and HR professionals, but also eliminates any appearance of inconsistencies when checks are made. A standard policy ensures not only consistency in the types of checks that are conducted, but also that information gathered is used appropriately. It also protects the institution by prompting compliance with legal requirements set out by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and other governing bodies.

At a minimum, a good policy should address what type of checks should be performed for each type of position; how many years of history the checks should cover; the criteria used for assessing whether the background screening results for a candidate meet the hiring standards for your institution; and what procedures are required to comply with all relevant federal and state legislation.

2. Require Complete, Accurate and Consistent Data
Background screening policies should require that all applicants give dates of employment with month and year for previous employers and a graduation date for high school, college and graduate school. Applicants will often omit jobs from their resumes when they performed poorly or did not stay long. Having complete dates reveals gaps in school and employment that should then be explained by the applicant.

Identify any inconsistencies between names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, education, job history and job titles provided on these documents. Any inconsistencies on documents should be explained by the candidate.

3. Conduct Comprehensive Criminal Checks
For an institution to demonstrate it is protecting its students, patients, faculty and staff, it is necessary to conduct criminal background checks on all applicants. Criminal checks in the United States are typically conducted on a county-by-county basis by accessing the county clerk’s records.

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