Services & Maintenance: Background Checks

By Traci Couts
Published in the July 2004 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Almost daily, Americans hear of the vulnerability of the nation’s public buildings, airports, schools, and shopping centers. While much of the attention has outside, it’s important not to overlook the potential enemy within.

Specifically, when hiring security personnel, but also anyone with access to people, property, company funds, and vital information inside a facility—can be a risk to a company. The best way to eliminate potentially threats is through the careful pre-hire and re-current screening of employees.




Digital Age Improves Background Checks

In this digital age, a background check can be completed virtually immediately and at far lower costs than in the past. Web-based online employment screening tools give facility managers the ability to check background information in minutes. And, as more governmental agencies and other organizations move their records from paper-based to electronic systems, checking criminal histories and verifying other applicable information is easier and faster than ever before.

Not only do online screening services save time—often a critical consideration when making hiring decisions—but they also put facility executives in control of the background screening process and eliminate the need for a middleman to access desired background information.

Rules Must be Followed

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Title VII anti-discrimination laws, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines, and other laws regulate employment screenings. Therefore, it is critical that the service facility professional’s select is not only compliant with applicable laws, but also provides the training and educational materials to help assure that companies comply as well.

One critical requirement is to obtain the applicant’s written approval before performing a background check. Further, if an applicant is to be turned down for a job based on the results of the background check, the individual must be notified that the decision was based on the result of the screening. The applicant then has five days to respond and correct any erroneous information.

A well-defined and documented employment screening program that includes a thorough background check is highly recommended for all job applicants. The organization should have written documentation setting out its standards and policies for employment screening. Having a formal set of guidelines for the type of background screening to be conducted for each category of employee can provide consistency to the process that can be important in the event of disputes.

What to Check

While the research conducted or the scope of the background check may vary by position, below are minimum types of information that a comprehensive background check should include.

Social Security Number Verification. The first step in any background screening is to verify the applicant is who he or she claims to be. The fastest way to do this is through a Social Security Number Verification. Using credit bureau data, this check authenticates the name associated with a number and verifies when and where it was issued. It also provides the names of any other people who may have used this number, as well as current and previous addresses.

This check is very valuable for several reasons beyond identity verification. The address history can be compared to that on an employment application or resume. If there are discrepancies, they should be explored before any more time or money is spent on additional checks. Additionally, the address history can be helpful in criminal history inquiries.

Criminal history. When checking criminal records, it’s no longer enough to check counties where the applicant has lived and/or worked, because in today’s more mobile society, there is a greater prevalence of people who have criminal histories outside their areas of residence/employment.

While most screening services offer court inquiries from counties to where they are directed, some online employment screening services have improved on this model and now provide employers with instant access to criminal records obtained directly from county and municipal courts. When a real time inquiry of a county or state’s court data is not possible, leading online services maintain a repository of court data that is updated on a regular basis.

Felony criminal records from state departments of corrections may also be available to inform employers if an individual has been incarcerated at a state correctional institution or placed on probation.

Finally, the premier online screening service companies offer instant multi-state criminal reports containing compiled information from a wide variety of criminal records sources. Information from county and municipal courts, state prisons, state and county criminal records repositories, and other criminal justice and enforcement agencies can be found.

Data coverage can vary by company, so it is wise to check carefully what data are included, as well as the freshness and historical depth. Leading screening companies will have this information conspicuously posted on their service. Beware if it is not there or if it’s not readily available, in writing, from the company.

Driving record. This is a must if the employee will be required to operate a motor vehicle. Even if the applicant won’t be driving for the company, these records can be helpful in revealing personal conduct and character traits.

This information includes personal data, citations, and offenses, including driving while intoxicated violations. Be wary of low cost driving record checks that only verify the existence of a license. They may omit important information like infractions and offenses.

Employment and education verifications. Recent studies show that approximately 25% of applicants falsify some aspect of their resume, so it makes sense to verify previous employers, positions held, and educational background, including earned degrees.

Responsible employers recognize that “I didn’t know” is not a defense and see background checks as a vital part of the employee hiring, promotion and retention process. They are a critical investment in the safety of fellow employees, customers and all those who enter the company’s doors.

The time and effort put into a pre-employment check could save thousands of dollars—and possibly even lives. Quality information is more readily accessible than ever before, making background checks easier, faster, and more cost-effective. It’s a process facility professionals can’t afford to avoid.

Couts is director of customer support services for OPENonline, LLC, a national Web-based employment screending company. For more information, visit the company’s Website at