‘Humanizing’ Background Checks Benefits Job Seekers and Employers

By Roy Maurer Jun 19, 2017
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​Brian (left) and Matthew Monahan, co-founders of background screening firm GoodHire.

​One background screening provider is touting an improved candidate experience by involving the candidate more in the screening process.   

Redwood City, Calif.-based GoodHire is garnering industry attention and accolades for its unconventional approach to what it calls "humanizing" background checks. The company's process creates a transparent, more-positive experience for the candidate and the context that candidates provide about their screening results helps HR follow hiring practices recommended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and many new ban-the-box laws.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Conducting Background Investigations]

Brian Monahan, co-founder and "chief idea guy" at GoodHire discussed with SHRM Online the problems he sees with traditional screening and how the candidate-focused approach opens up the talent pool, helps HR stay compliant and even gets new-hire onboarding off to a promising start.

SHRM Online: What is meant by humanizing background checks and how will the practice benefit candidates and employers?

Monahan: Historically, the background check process has been all about standardizing. Looking at everyone through an identical lens and commodifying people in buckets. But that's not how humans are. Humanizing background checks means helping HR and hiring managers see the real people behind the data.

To do that, we bring the candidate directly into the center of the equation. Instead of background checks being a black box, we invite candidates into a radically transparent process. This transparency removes the anxiety many candidates feel about employment screening and helps HR make a human decision about whether to bring this real person onto the team.

We empower candidates to provide context about their criminal records—what happened, when, and what steps they've taken since—to help decision-makers get a clearer picture of the real person behind the record. And that is completely in line with fair hiring practices recommended by the EEOC and increasingly written into local and state ban-the-box laws.

For candidates, it means that they're active participants, aware of every stage of the process starting with giving consent and filling out their own information. It means every candidate sees their background check results and can respond to any inaccuracies. And, of course, it means they're empowered to provide context for any criminal records, employment gaps, or other information that HR could perceive as a red flag to hiring.

The benefit for employers is that the hiring pool opens up considerably, when you consider that 70 million Americans have criminal records.

SHRM Online: How will this approach help HR stay compliant when screening?

Monahan: Risk management is part of the HR function. But when risk management drives the screening process, a different risk arises—screening out qualified candidates without good reason, which is counter to EEOC guidance.

The EEOC issued guidance that says employers should individually assess people with criminal records instead of automatically rejecting everyone who has a criminal record. The EEOC recommends considering the nature of the crime, how long ago it occurred, and the nature of the job to evaluate whether the specific criminal record should disqualify the applicant from the job.

For example, it makes sense that a record for a violent crime might disqualify someone from working at a school. A nonviolent drug offense from 10 years ago, though, wouldn't necessarily disqualify someone from working on a shop floor.

Ignoring the EEOC guidance for individual assessment puts employers at risk for legal action. And the EEOC's recommendation for individual assessment is increasingly being written into law. At least 70 ban-the-box statutes around the country require some kind of individualized assessment.

So the ability for candidates to provide additional context around criminal records helps employers follow EEOC guidance, which reduces lawsuit risk, and comply with the new ban-the-box trend to require individual assessment of people with criminal records.

And bringing the whole process into the open, from consent, through reviewing background check results, through putting the ability to dispute inaccuracies into candidates' own hands helps comply with both the disclosure and authorization and the adverse action requirements laid out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

That, too, helps employers avoid expensive legal actions of the kind UPS, Amazon, and other companies have been drawn into over alleged FCRA violations.

SHRM Online: You also say that involving candidates more in the screening process will improve onboarding. How so?

Monahan: Background checks typically happen with a conditional job offer. That means they're one of the first interactions candidates have at their new job. A respectful approach to the background screen helps employers set the right tone in their relationship with new hires. Studies show that the first 90 days are critical to the retention and productivity of new employees.

Do you want to start that new-hire relationship from a place of transparency and trust?

When background checks come across as a messy piece of bureaucracy that makes them feel like they're on trial, that works against the trust you want to build with your employees.


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