Uptick in Hiring Highlights Importance of Background Screening

Medical marijuana expected to be hot topic

By Kathy Gurchiek April 9, 2015

Although some states have changed their laws around medical and recreational marijuana use, more than half of 3,119 HR professionals surveyed said their organizations do not accommodate marijuana use in the workplace or plan to do so in the next year.

That is among the findings of HireRight’s 2015 Employee Background Screening Benchmark Report, conducted in October and November 2014 with HR professionals responsible for employment screening and recruiting.

“This is going to be one of the hottest topics of the year in terms of background screening: drug screening,” said Rachel Trindade, vice president of marketing at HireRight, a provider of employment background checks, drug and health screenings, and Form I-9 employment verification.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized the possession of marijuana for medical use, and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession of small amounts of the drug for recreational use. However, federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug—one with no currently accepted legal use.

Only 4 percent of respondents said their organization has a policy to accommodate medical marijuana use and 6 percent plan to implement one within the next year; one-third weren’t sure if they have such a policy. Those in the transportation industry were not included in the medical marijuana policy responses because marijuana use is federally prohibited and regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“With those changes happening [in the law], you’re going to see a lot of employers this year trying to look at what their policy is, especially how they revamp their [drug-testing] policy and communicate it back to their employee base,” Trindade predicted.

The hiring outlook is improving—76 percent expect to add to their staff in 2015—and screening job applicants can help to minimize the risk of bad hires, according to HireRight. Drug and alcohol screening was one of several areas that the survey looked at.

Ninety-two percent of employers perform criminal and other public-record searches, more than three-fourths validate identify and Social Security numbers, more than two-thirds check previous employment and/or references, more than half check motor vehicle records, and 50 percent verify education.

Among HireRight’s findings:

  • 86 percent of employers have uncovered lies or misrepresentations on resumes or job applications.
  • 72 percent said background screening uncovered issues they would not have otherwise found.
  • 32 percent do not check previous employment or references.

Resume, Job Application Fibs

Education and experience are the usual falsifications on a resume or job application, Trindade noted—and such deceit isn’t limited to entry-level positions.

One applicant for an executive position claimed he was involved in a number of major international deals, but a background check revealed he had been an interpreter when those deals were discussed, she said.

She also recalled an applicant who claimed to have been a doctor in a hospital in Puerto Rico. When a background check could find no record of the person working at the hospital, a call to the applicant uncovered that the man’s father had been critically ill in the hospital. The applicant sat with his father every day and rationalized that he spent as much time in the hospital as the doctors there.

Sometimes the lie is about education, like the applicant whose job application included a reference to a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland. In an attempt to verify the information, no record could be found that he attended the school. Contacted about the discrepancy, he admitted that he had never enrolled at the school but went with his girlfriend every day, attending all of her classes for four years. It was a lie that he had perpetuated on his resume for 10 years.

Such lies or misrepresentations are more about a lack of integrity than the actual lack of degree or falsified experience, Trindade said, since applicants sign a job application form testifying to the accuracy of the information they provide.

Sometimes resume discrepancies surface after an employee is promoted or his or her access to sensitive information changes, but only 15 percent of organizations rescreen their employees, HireRight found.

“Organizations should review what their screening policies are and review that with their counsel—What sort of risk tolerance do they have for their industry?” Trindade said. Energy and defense sectors have a lower tolerance for risk than retail, she pointed out.

A change in access to sensitive information might include a promotion that would allow a hotel employee to have keys to all the rooms. Such a promotion would mark a good time to rescreen that employee, she suggested. Additionally, health care workers should be re-screened to verify that their licenses are up-to-date.

“Some employers may not be aware that they can rescreen employees and nonemployees” such as vendors, the report pointed out. “Others may hesitate to recheck backgrounds, believing that they are violating an individual’s privacy.”

Among best practices HireRight recommends:

  • Ensure screening inquiries are related to the position being filled.
  • Ask for consent. The screening provider should require an applicant release form is completed and signed.
  • The screening provider can provide information about what inquiries or checks are commonly requested for certain positions. Some organizations have matrices that detail what areas are to be checked before an applicant is onboarded. There also may be government regulations that govern how employers perform background screening.
  • Know and comply with local laws. In the U.S., it’s important to ensure that both your organization and the screening provider comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act rules and any relevant “ban the box” legislation, restricting questions about criminal history on the employment application.
  • Stay informed of screening guidelines. Employers must be aware of the changing laws from many different jurisdictions. It can be helpful to have a knowledgeable legal partner to stay aware of and adhere to new laws and regulations.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor of HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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