As business owners, we must remain confident in our ability to ferret out less qualified employment candidates through interviews and job skill evaluations. But what’s the role of criminal and motor vehicle record background checks?
While they may not drive most of our hiring decisions, careful thought should be given to how, when, and under what circumstances these checks are conducted as well as how they should influence employment decision-making. The criteria should be clear and consistent. And all of this should be decided long before a job position is posted.
Failing to conduct necessary checks can lead to catastrophic consequences and overwhelming liability, and conducting them improperly can just as easily, too. The solution is to give background checks the serious consideration they are finally due.
In 2010, Texas-based nonprofit Lutheran Social Services (LSS) uncovered a two-year embezzlement scheme by one of its employees that cost LSS — and indirectly the public that it endeavors to serve — nearly $50,000. The employee-perpetrator gradually absconded with the funds through hundreds of falsified expense reports over a two-year period. Sadly, the fraud was preventable.
LSS normally conducted criminal background checks. And before LSS hired the perpetrator, she had twice been convicted of fraud crimes, one against a nonprofit organization. An unfortunate happenstance allowed her to slip through LSS’s normally-diligent screening process. A criminal report was run, but it was merely dropped into the applicant’s file before it was ever reviewed. Management was unaware of it until it discovered the employee’s embezzlement years later.
This event, while disappointing, is a mild example of the damage that ill-intentioned employees can cause. The potential risks can be far worse. In one of the more notorious examples, a trucker with an extensive history of criminal sexual misconduct and assault was hired without a criminal background check by his new employer. He later raped and assaulted a hitchhiker while on duty. He was convicted of the crime, and his employer faced a $4 million verdict for negligent hiring.
These are extreme cases — few overlooked criminal reports or decisions to forego criminal checks will lead to such dire results. But they could. When they do, the costs can be astronomical, not only through immediate financial losses, but also from the resulting negative publicity.
This is not to say that criminal and motor vehicle background checks are without their risks, or that employers should conduct them without any forethought. Both federal and state laws regulate, to some degree, the methods that employers may use to screen job applicants. Failing to follow these legal requirements can pose as many risks as not conducting criminal and motor vehicle record (MVR) screening at all.