Employee background screenings up dramatically

Employers are screening job applicants for credit problems and criminal backgrounds more and more.

According to the Workforce Management site, because of the explosive growth in the background screening industry during the past decade, criminal credit checks of job candidates are becoming nearly universal. They estimate that 16 percent of employers now screen their existing employees on an ongoing basis (that's up from 12 percent a year ago).

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HireRight, a background screening provider based in Irvine, California, conducted a study in which they surveyed 1,411 employers of all sizes from more than 15 industries. They found that:

  • 93 percent of employers report that they run criminality checks, up from 85 percent in 2008.
  • 84 percent of employers conduct comprehensive screening before the first day of work; 8 percent screen immediately after the start.
  • 10 percent of employers report that screening adversely affects the hiring decision in a staggering 50 percent or more of the cases.
  • 71 percent of employers report that their organization conducts screening to "reduce risk to the organization"; 68 percent say the purpose is to "ensure a safer workplace."
  • Employee screening used to happen more commonly in certain industries, but the practice is becoming more widespread across industries.

Is it legal?

Though many employers say their organizations conduct screening to reduce the risk to the organization or to ensure a safer workplace, many are using the screenings to whittle down long lists of job applicants. In essence, they are using criminal records or poor credit histories to make character judgments against job candidates when there is no job-related or business necessity.

Whether you believe the result of a screening is a correct predictor of behavior and performance or not, the act of screening for that purpose is coming up against new legislative restrictions and legal challenges.

For example, on October 1, 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a discrimination lawsuit against Freeman Cos., a corporate events marketing company that it claims has rejected job applicants based on their credit history and if they had criminal charges in their background. The EEOC says these exclusionary practices are not job-related or justified by business necessity.

Are the results indicative of employee performance?

According to Workforce Management, EEOC hearings on screening practices in November 2008 included expert testimony that the results are not good predictors of employee behavior or performance. In addition to greater EEOC scrutiny of criminal record screening practices, a growing number of states now prohibit or limit pre-employment arrest inquiries.

New technologies

One of the reasons employee screening is becoming so widespread is that there are a slew of technologies, initially used by anti-terrorism and police interrogation, now available to private-sector employers. For example, Suspect Detection Systems Ltd., an Israeli security company, is now marketing its Cogito "hostile intent" detection technology to employers.

There's even a free iPhone application that lets users conduct background screening on any person if the user inputs basic personal information. So even if you're not blabbing about your every personal event on Facebook or Twitter, your life could be an open book.

How do you feel about the practice of screening job candidates for reasons other than business necessity (e.g., a financial firm has restrictions against hiring a person who has been indicted for embezzlement)? Let's take a poll: