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Getting help from the outside.

THE NEED FOR THOROUGH preemployment screening is receiving more attention now that the courts have started to hold companies - and in some cases individuals-liable for negligent hiring procedures. To meet the screening demand, nationwide private investigation agencies have started using new approaches and the latest technology. These agencies provide background investigation reports that are not only fast, accurate, and cost-effective but also viable to this modern-day employer problem.

Most companies assign preemployment screening and background investigations to corporate security or human resources personnel. Often, however, those departments are ill-equipped to deal with the responsibility they're handed.

Screening goes beyond delving into an applicant's past performance and assessing his or her ability to handle a job's responsibilities. Today, security and human resources managers need reliable methods to verify information applicants provide and uncover other more relevant background information.

Does the person have a criminal record, for example? If so, what was the offense? Does he or she have a history of drug abuse or other behavioral problems? Is the applicant susceptible to an injury or illness that poses a danger on the job? Finding answers to such questions is not easy.

Employers can no longer rely on traditional screening methods to distinguish the qualified from the unqualified, much less as protection against negligent hiring lawsuits. Resumes, applications, and interviews are unreliable tools for weeding out persons who cover up shortcomings with lies, omissions, or exaggerations.

Polygraphs and drug tests, once useful in raising points for discussion, are subject to increasing state and federal restrictions. Paper-and-pencil tests fill in some of the gaps, but their reliability is uneven. These tests also require interpretations that human resource and security professionals are unwilling or unable to perform regularly.

Another traditional method for determining an applicant's suitability has been to contact his or her previous employers. Today, however, employers are often unwilling to discuss a present or former employee because they have nothing to gain and much to lose b doing so. For example, an employee may have been caught stealing, and the company may have prosecuted him or her. Fear of legal action, adverse publicity, and other consequences, however, often prevents a supervisor from divulging such information.

In recent ears companies have begun researching public records to verify and expand on information provided by job applicants. Certain public and quasi-public records contain facts about an individual's character and competence and are useful in piecing together an applicant's background. (See box.) Employers wishing to search those records for their own background investigations can do so but not without difficulty.

Unfortunately, there is no Orwellian data base in the sky-no single, national office of public records containing every file for every location of the country. Criminal records are available in most states at a central location, but many states have erected stiff restrictions on who has access to files-often barring employers-or have provided other safeguards designed to protect individuals from unfair discrimination. Companies should obtain legal counsel to learn the requirements of the jurisdiction in which the search is to be conducted.

Employers can bypass central repositories by contacting the appropriate count courthouse. These are the best and primary source for criminal histories. Even so, access to records is often prevented by bureaucratic red tape. Companies must not only find the correct office to call or write but also comply with each county's system.

DESPITE THESE METHods, many companies find the do-ityourself approach both arduous and time-consuming because corporate security and human resources personnel may not be specifically trained in or adept at providing the quality of investigation required. Local or regional private investigation agencies are helpful, but they, too, have limitations. Also they usually do not have the resources to conduct nationwide background searches.

The mobility of today's society also presents special difficulties in conducting background investigations. Job applicants may arrive at a company's doorstep from thousands of miles away and have lived in a number of jurisdictions. If an applicant has relocated recently, a prudent company conducts a search of records in the area he or she left. The reason an applicant moved to seek employment may be good or bad. With nationwide investigation agencies able to retrieve data from public records quickly and research backgrounds through a widespread network of street investigators, companies can readily obtain quality preemployment screening services.

Knowing where and how to retrieve public records quickly and inexpensively has become an art in itself. In the past two years a few national investigation agencies have refined this art by using electronic communications technology. Agencies use computers, modems, fax machines, and other electronic transfer equipment to move information to and from clients, back and forth between the agency's nationwide offices and extensive network of private investigators, and to and from record-keeping sources.

Using electronic data bases of record-keeping sources, computers access public records usually without sending investigators into the field. Field investigators can, however, obtain hard copies of court documents for validation purposes.

A national investigation agency specializing in employment screening provides services and benefits otherwise unobtainable.

Quick turnaround. Through years of experience, a reputable agency knows how and where to obtain pertinent background information on an individual quickly.

Legal accuracy. A reputable agency is well versed on the rights of job applicants, employees, and employers. A professional investigator knows every information source must be legally grounded and can substantiate and document all findings.

Thoroughness. Any discrepancy in information an applicant provides could easily be a harmless error but should be clarified. An investigation agency can determine whether such a discrepancy is an isolated occurrence or has appeared elsewhere in the person's background. Discrepancies are reported to the employer as they are discovered. The employer then decides whether to pursue or discontinue the research.

Analysis. A key difference between a professional and an amateur investigation is the continual analysis and experienced judgments made throughout a background search. In the hands of a professional investigator, all elements of an individual's personal history are part of an overall picture.

To a professional investigator. an unverifiable element such as a small gap in time accountability may warrant further investigation. A gap between jobs could indicate unemployment, drug use, or a jail term.

A standard background investigation does not exist. Preemployment screening should be tailored to fit a company and its requirements.

Every company should have a background investigation policy. To ensure consistency-a factor the courts look for in negligence cases-the policy should require screening for all positions.

Also, high-level executives are not the only employees who need to be screened. Recent incidents of employee violence in the workplace have shown that companies cannot afford to skip investigations even for e jobs.

Verifying personal information is one important precaution. This information includes date of birth; social security and driver's license numbers; previous residences; and full names, addresses, and phone numbers of references.

National investigation agencies that routinely conduct background investigations can complete a cursory preemployment screening for as little as 100. Compared to the price of poor employee performance, high turnover, theft of assets or proprietary information, and liability, hiring an agency is a bargain.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Screening for Success supplement; preemployment screening; includes information on using public records
Author:Hill, William T.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:I screen, you screen.
Next Article:The ways and means of screening.

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