Trust but Verify

Dec 1, 2010

The use of background screening has grown steadily, according to experts in the field. Large employers are far more likely to conduct checks, they say, but many mid-sized and smaller ones also conduct some kind of background check for at least some positions.

The screening they do includes drug testing; checking criminal and motor vehicle records; and verifying employment history, education, licenses and certifications. Checking credit status is not as prevalent, in part because some state laws prohibit or greatly restrict the use of credit history in hiring decisions.

“We’re very disciplined about not hiring anyone without a background check,” says Larry Fultz, chief HR officer at Vanguard Health Systems in Nashville, which owns 17 hospitals in five markets and has about 35,000 employees. Some background checks are mandated by law for many positions.

Fultz’s worst nightmare: “That we don’t go back far enough. There’s a record expunged because of a plea and someone gets through the process as a caregiver who is not what they portrayed themselves to be.”

The Transportation Safety Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and even the U.S. Postal Service mandate much of the background checking by Continental Airlines, says Darby James, director of staffing. “We do different checks on pilots than on mechanics. We look at a combination of local, federal and common-sense requirements.” Continental also rechecks certain employees on a regular basis.

Employers without mandates are also concerned about the backgrounds of new hires. “We check everyone we hire. That would be all new hires, contingent hires and any rehires. If you go away and come back even a short time later, as little as two weeks, we do the pre-employment screening again,” says Mary Bryan, vice president of HR field operations at OfficeMax Inc. “We do it first and foremost to create a productive and safe work environment.”

Given the potential for costly litigation and damage to a company’s reputation, one could ask why even more companies don’t do even more background checks.

“Every day, thousands of my employees are inside America’s homes. I can't afford not to pick up a sex offender or something else during the background check," says Stephen Wood, chief human resources officer of Dish Network Corp. "If they do something to injure my brand--it is irreparable.”


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