Using Criminal Records When Hiring

Be concerned and careful when using criminal records as part of the screening and hiring process.  You could end up becoming one yourself.

Criminal records . . . we’ve been hearing a lot about them in the news, from business associates and it has caused us some concern.

The Department of Defense declares that criminal history record data is the single most important piece of background information about prospective applicants. (The Police Chief – the official publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police).

Let’s set the record straight – about as straight as it can get. The perception that a giant mega-size computer system resides somewhere in this country that houses ALL the records of EVERY criminal offense committed in the last year, or 5 years, or 25 years DOES NOT EXIST.  That is a fact . . . indisputable.

If you think your local law enforcement department, or even the FBI has that information at their fingertips by mashing a few buttons on a computer, it’s time to change your thinking.

The Facts . . . there are nearly 3,700 police bureaus in this country and structured record keeping is not necessarily the norm.  Some states claim to have multiple counties reporting arrest and conviction records into a centralized repository that in turn feeds data into the ‘big system’.  Actually, most states having such a system may be lagging behind in record reporting as much as 2 years! And as we’ve tried to explain, the ‘big system’ is not what you might think it is.

To make matters worse, you don’t want to employ a criminal who could devastate your company or may be a threat to a client because of their position requirements. So what do you do?

Due diligence . . . As a business owner or manager you do the best that you are able to – what you reasonably can afford to do.  Most courts would recognize a criminal record check at the county level as due diligence. But does a single county check help you if they were convicted in another part of the country?

No one can deny that it may be like looking for a needle, etc., but you conducted due diligence; anything more is going above and beyond – although you’d really like to know for sure wouldn’t you?

That’s where the cost can begin to skyrocket.  Take a look at yourself. Write down the names of the places you’ve been since the age of 18 – OK, that’s plenty enough — you can stop now.  It could get very costly to try and confirm that someone is totally clean of any criminal wrongdoing. What if you heard through the rumor mill that the applicant may have been involved in a pyramid scheme, or a drug bust?  Regardless of guilt or innocence, there’s a big chance that Federal agents made some of these arrests, and the person(s) would have been prosecuted in a Federal court.  Bad news . . . this is yet another series of courts that retains their records separately.

Now the predicament is not getting any better.  In a perfect business world, this would be an easy task to face.  But actually, it ranks alongside of I-9 forms, Social Security number verification and employment referencing. You must do what is reasonable to protect yourself, your company’s assets, your clients and your employees.  Experts recommend that you check the county of residence as well as three of the surrounding counties, especially in metropolitan areas.

So why check criminal records at all?  Finding good employees is one of the toughest jobs business owners and managers face, especially in today’s tight market.

If you are not checking criminal backgrounds on prospective applicants, here are some of the reasons why you should.

  1. The workplace is the scene of almost a million violent crimes each year – that’s one every 31 seconds.
  2. An estimate of more than 875,000 workdays are lost annually to workplace violence, a total of about $16 million in wages.
  3. In lawsuits citing negligent hiring, courts are now deciding in favor of employers that can show a bona fide effort to investigate prospective employees’ backgrounds.
  4. Two-thirds of negligent hiring cases that go to trial convince juries to award more than $600,000 to plaintiffs.
  5. Currently, we locate criminal activity on more than 15% of requests.
  6. Employment applications are falsified or ‘puffed’ nearly one-third of the time.
  7. In most instances, our clients reject an applicant who has lied about criminal records when filling out an employment application.