Employment background screening has gone from being a “nice-to-have” to a “have-to-have” function for most American companies. Up to 80 percent of organizations now perform some kind of criminal background check, and the number is growing. In addition, companies that might have only performed criminal checks in the past are now adding checks of past employment, education, credit and driving histories, sex offender registries, restricted parties lists (like OFAC) and much more.

But while background screening becomes ubiquitous, organizations still tend to make many mistakes in their screening procedures and practices.

MISTAKE 1: Not establishing a standard background screening policy

Just because a company conducts some form of background check doesn’t mean that its recruiters or security professionals are performing the checks consistently or using the data appropriately. Having a standard written policy for every job title assures that the same types of checks are always performed on like individuals and that data is used in compliance with all company, industry, state and federal regulations. It also avoids any appearance of discrimination.

MISTAKE 2: Not verifying employment and education

Sometimes the desire to quickly secure a seemingly good candidate can lead a company to accept resume data at face value. This can be a big mistake. Roughly one third of all resumes contain some kind of misrepresentation in terms of employment history, education or experience. In addition, so-called “diploma mills” have grown to a $200 million industry and continue to expand. Even for jobs where education and/or experience are not critical to success, a purposeful misrepresentation can signal problems of character in a potential hire.

MISTAKE 3: Not checking vendors, contractors, temps

One security director of a large multi-national company commented that it was illogical that he had to have a background check and an escort to see his CEO, while the man who serviced the green plants could walk into the CEO’s office any time unchecked and unescorted. One of the greatest vulnerabilities of companies today is among the large number of unchecked suppliers and temporary employees. The sad fact is that people with questionable backgrounds will eventually gravitate to industries where background checks are seldom performed on employees. Making background screening for temporary, contract and vendor-employed workers a standard policy should be part of any company’s policy for internal controls.

MISTAKE 4: Not conducting international checks when required

Today’s talent pool is global. Even candidates who are U.S. citizens may have had some portion of their education or experience outside the country. It is just as important to verify international backgrounds as it would be for local ones. International background checking, however, is more complex and governed by many different local statutes, policies and procedures. Security professionals should seek out a competent international screening partner.

MISTAKE 5: Not protecting against negligent retention

If an employee causes damage or harm in the workplace, and recent criminal activity, driving infringements or drug abuse could have been discovered by the employer prior to the workplace incident, the employer may be found liable for negligent retention. Conducting checks on all new hires, prior to duty, is essential. Keep in mind, also, that a lot can happen in the years after a new hire comes aboard. Organizations can sometimes protect themselves with periodic post-hire criminal checks and drug testing, so long as such investigations remain respectful of employees’ personal lives and laws.

MISTAKE 6: Relying on manual internal processes

The more times a candidate’s background information is hand-entered into different forms or systems, the greater the chance for human error. In addition, unscrupulous candidates may put different information on their resume, employment application and background checking form, relying on the fact that the company won’t notice the discrepancy among the pile of papers. Today’s companies can overcome these problems by seeking out a background screening process that is integrated into their recruitment software. Data from the recruiting solution can automatically populate the background screening request form of a screening provider, and checks can be ordered at the touch of a couple keys with no need for faxing or duplicate data entry.

It is important to note that effective background screening requires human intervention and intuition on the screening provider’s side of the fence – criminal checks, for example, often require manual checks of court records and files – so be weary of fully automated systems that provide instant checks. Finding solutions that combine the best of automation and human investigation gives optimum return on investment.

As employment background screening has grown, it has also changed. A far cry from the mom and pop detective service of old, background screening services today are truly an extension of an organization’s security and recruitment departments. Avoiding these six common oversights will help organizations get the full benefit from their modern background screening program.

Ferreting out employees who steal software at work – Garret the Ferret is the Business Software Alliance’s copyright crusading mascot. Photo courtesy: PRNewsFoto

Sidebar: Employee Harm Through Office Computers

Effective background screening can not only alarm to a candidate with a history of violence or illegal drugs but also one who has harmed previous employers through computer and information incidents.

Such threats are real and cause a liability headache. Software piracy is a growing concern, report readers of Security magazine in a recent Web-based survey. A study by the Business Software Alliance contends that global piracy fell a percentage point last year. But some 35 percent of software on PCs was used illegally. The software industry’s losses from piracy hit a record $33 billion in 2004. That’s up 14 percent from $29 billion in 2003.

Some background screenings now delve into a person’s past history of illegal and unethical activity related to computer and information security issues as well as software piracy.