Criminal Background Screening: Have a Plan

122459586Commissioning a pre-employment criminal background search can feel like a dizzying experience to many hiring organizations. In fact, a 2014 survey by First Advantage found almost 40 percent of those who order criminal background checks are uncertain about the process.

Much of this likely has to do with the fact that there are multiple sources of different kinds of criminal history information, not to mention multiple providers that offer them. Confusing matters further are the varying rules and regulations, depending on the location of the organization and the candidate, and inconsistencies in turnaround time based on the type and geographic scope of the search.

But perhaps the single-biggest cause of confusion related to criminal background screening is that companies don’t have a firm understanding for their own risk tolerance in this area. Too often, the individuals overseeing such searches for the same organization hold inconsistent views, with some feeling like they should go “all in” when screening for criminal histories; whereas, others simply want to conduct screens that pass compliance requirements with minimal time and cost.

Ideally, companies need a unified plan for criminal background checks. The schema starts with identifying – and having a consensus with – the company’s overall risk tolerance in employment screening. Different organizations will undoubtedly want to confront different issues specific to their business, but there are a few common yet critical questions most all companies can benefit from asking:

  • Will the individual(s) being hired have unsupervised access to at-risk populations, such as children, the sick or the elderly?
  • Will they have access to sensitive customer information?
  • Will they have access to sensitive company information?
  • Does their professional licensure require criminal screening? (For example, within the financial industry, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has established guidelines recommending, at minimum, employees be screened for prior criminal convictions and industry sanctions.)

Based on their answers to these questions, organizations should consider creating job-specific screening packages that can help promote hiring consistency by applying the same requirements to all applicants. These packages should include tiers of what risk level the company is willing to absorb; for example, low risk, moderate risk and high risk if not still more gradation.

PREMIUM CONTENT: Background Checks: Best Practices in Managing Liability in the U.S. 

In addition to assessing a risk level based on the above factors, it’s often wise to categorize jobs based on categories of seniority (entry-level, management-level, executive-level.) After all, high-risk positions not only include those responsible for the safety and welfare of others, but also individuals in roles that may importantly affect public perception, brand reputation or investor satisfaction with the company.

Of course, final review should be done in consort with legal counsel, who can ensure the program being built is compliant with often-nuanced worldwide laws, standards and EEOC guidelines.They can remind, for example, that employers’ criminal records searches can include court records and prison records, but not arrest records.

For more information on pre-employment criminal background searches, individuals are invited to attend First Advantage’s complimentary “It’s a Crime” webinar on August 28, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. ET. Drawing from its more than 23 million conducted background checks, First Advantage experts will clarify some of the confusion associated with criminal record search processes and share specific data regarding which geographies take the longest to get results, what kinds of legislation might be worth watching and more.

MORE: Steps to ensure an accurate background check 


Theresa Preg

Theresa Preg
Theresa Preg, senior director of product management at First Advantage, is a widely respected criminal records expert with more than 20 years of background screening experience. She can be reached at Theresa.Preg (at) fadv (dot) com.

Theresa Preg

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One Response to “Criminal Background Screening: Have a Plan”

  1. WalterKowalski says:

    Thank you for this information. My friend is in the process of opening his own business and he will need to start hiring employees. I’m not sure if he has thought about whether or not he intends to have background checks performed on any potential employees. I’ll have to share this article with him the next time I see him.
    Walter Kowalski |

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