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The truth about doing background checks on employees

March 07, 2012
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Contrary to popular perception, there is no national criminal computer available to private employers. Criminal records are normally checked by having qualified researchers visit courthouses in counties where an applicant has lived or worked. Because there are more than 10,000 courthouses in America where records are kept, most employers outsource this task to qualified firms that specialize in pre-employment screening.

Other screening tools can include social security number traces and driving records. The social security number trace may indicate additional counties to search for criminal records and the driving record can reveal other potential problems such as drug or alcohol abuse. Some employers may wish to check civil records that may give indications relevant to workplace safety, such as allegations of violent behavior or violation of a restraining order. Federal checks of civil and criminal records are additional tools available.

Another important tool is résumé verification. Job applicants often use their résumés as a marketing tool, but the hiring company can find itself in trouble when résumés exceed the bounds of honesty. Many national screening firms estimate that up to 30 percent of résumés contain material falsehoods that pertain to previous employment, education and professional licenses.

Contacting past employers to ask about incidents of past violence may be difficult, given the reluctance of many past employers to give any information beyond dates of employment and job title. That is another reason why performing a check for past criminal acts is a critical step.

Even if a past employer will not give details about job performance when asked, just verifying the job dates and job title are crucially important. It verifies the accuracy of the applicant’s employment history and confirms where an applicant has been. An employer needs to know where an applicant has been in order to search for criminal records. The application or résumé should also be examined carefully to determine if there are any unexplained gaps in the employment history. If there is a gap, the employer or screening firm may not be searching for records in all of the appropriate courthouses.

Lester S. Rosen is an attorney at law and president of Employment Screening Resources, a national background screening company ( He is a consultant, writer and frequent presenter on safe hiring,pre-employment screening and legal compliance.

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