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Business Operations

Employee background checks

October 11, 2010
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Summary: This month, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® asked Brian McElwee, president of easyBackgrounds.com, to answer a question submitted by a carwash owner from Westbury, N.Y., wondering how to perform a background check on potential employees.

Question: How important is it to screen potential carwash employees and what is the best way to perform a background check?

Brian McElwee: Last year, 7NEWS of Denver, CO put together a highly publicized exposé on theft committed by carwash employees.

The station placed several hidden cameras in vehicles to be serviced and recorded bait money being stolen at 40 percent of the locations tested (15 carwashes were visited, thefts occurred at six).

Most of these thefts involved relatively small amounts of money, but the immeasurable loss is in the customer that doesn’t return.

As is the case with most problems, prevention is better than correction — and one way to prevent, or at least reduce theft, is by conducting background checks.

Honesty is the best policy
With turnover as high as it is in the carwash and detailing industry, it’s understandable that many owners see background checks as a bottom-line-robber.

The numbers may speak otherwise, however, if you consider the true expense of losing a customer.

Background screening isn’t about digging into a candidate’s past and looking for dirt; it’s simply verifying information that has already been provided.

Most employment applications ask for former addresses, prior employers, education or skills and a statement regarding criminal history.

Your job is to decide what needs to be verified, based on the position being filled. The screening company you choose may be able to assist with this, but ultimately it’s your decision.

Before you can begin verifying what your candidate has presented however, you need at least a basic understanding of what’s available and how it’s used.

Here are the most commonly ordered screening searches, and the ones best suited to carwash and detailing businesses:

1. Address history/social security number trace
The foundation of any good background check is an Address History/SSN Trace.

This search is based on the individual’s social security number and will produce a list of former addresses. These are the areas (counties) that should be checked for criminal records.

This search also assists in verifying the identity of the candidate.

2. County criminal record searches
County court records produce the most accurate and up-to-date information relating to any case, and should be the primary means of research.

Searches should be done in each county of residency during the past seven years. This is the standard set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

3. Criminal record databases
These sources can be an excellent way to supplement the County Criminal Record searches — they should not, however, be used as a replacement.

There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Not all states make their data available electronically, so the searches claiming to be ‘Nationwide’ can be misleading;
  • Even in states that do offer data, not all counties contribute their findings, so there are geographic holes in the data;
  • There is no standard in terms of what records should be included or how frequently the source is updated.

Some states only use data from the Department of Corrections (inmates and parolees) and update annually, while other states include everything down to minor infractions and update monthly.

4. Federal criminal record searches
Federal Court searches pertain only to violations of Federal law. You will not find violations of Federal law in county court and vice versa.

While Federal violations only make up about 10 percent of criminal records, they tend to be of a very serious nature.

These searches are used most frequently for a senior level candidate.

5. Employment verifications
This involves the screening company contacting the candidate’s former employer(s) to verify basic information such as start and end date, title upon departure and eligibility for rehire.

While this is a function any employer can do on their own, unless you reach the right person at the right time on the first call, you may find that it’s worth having the screening company do the footwork involved with verifying employment information.

Employment verifications differ from Reference Verifications, which are performance-related searches — usually with a former supervisor or co-worker. These, too, can be performed by the screening company.

6. Education information
This involves the same process as employment verification and is usually done only at the school where the candidate obtained their highest degree.

Education verification is an important part of the hiring process for individuals that are being hired for more senior positions — particularly because degrees and credentials are among the most frequently falsified qualifications.

7. Driver history
This search provides records from the state Department of Motor Vehicles and typically includes license status, moving violations, accidents, suspensions and revocations.

In addition to providing an objective view of responsibility as a driver (important in the carwash industry), this is also an excellent form of identity verification.

The truth of the matter
The background check report should support whatever information your candidate has provided.

If the candidate has responded to your employment application’s question “Have you been convicted of a felony in the past seven years?” with “No”, then the results should reflect this.

The confirmation of employment information provided by your candidate proves he or she is being truthful about their professional experience and develops a time line that will help reveal any unexplained gaps.

Most employers will verify start and end dates, title upon departure and eligibility for re-hire.

Likewise, information provided by educational institutions should match what the subject provided.

Screen your screening provider
Like any vendor, you should do your due diligence before making a decision on your screening provider. Consider a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS); this is the background screening industry’s primary association.

Members of this organization commit to an operational code of ethics and have access to the most up-to-date compliance regulation in the industry.

In speaking with potential vendors, include questions about:

  • How searches are executed;
  • The source of their data;
  • Turnaround times for each type of search;
  • How your records and account data are secured; and
  • References.

Before you place that order…
Obtain a signed written release from your candidate. If you don’t have one, your screening vendor should be able to provide one for you.

Set up some in-house criteria for how the reports will be used. What is acceptable and what is not?

If you don’t have an in-house human resources (HR) person, hire a professional HR consultant to work with you on establishing these standards.

In summary, a good screening program will not only help reduce theft-related losses and reduce turnover, it will assist with building a solid and reliable employee base.

If, as many business owners say, your greatest assets are your employees — then they can be your greatest liability as well. Background checks can help you keep those employees in the asset category.


Brian McElwee is president of easyBackgrounds.com, a nationwide employment screening company. To reach Brian, email him at brianm@easybackgrounds.com.