By Mike McCarty
It was not long ago that we would have been discussing how important it is to conduct background checks on prospective employees, volunteers and even existing employees. I am not saying that the ship has sailed, but most of you took notice and implemented a background screening program. Good for you.
Now, we need to evaluate our process and make sure we are with a reputable background check company. I will try to give you a few pointers to help you with your evaluation. This might be the most important thing you do as an organization.
I have probably said this a thousand times, but I will say it another thousand times until everyone understands that the background screening industry is a highly unregulated industry. There are no standards of care, and there is not a standard definition of what constitutes a background check.
Yes, you can argue that the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act provides regulation for background screening firms. However, read it carefully. There are strong consumer protections. How the Notice and Authorization Form must be constructed. How you handle adverse information. A requirement that screening firms have policies that ensure maximum accuracy.
So, I would argue that there are regulations for dealing with adverse or negative information. However, what if there is no adverse information? What if the searches were so limited that they did not uncover any adverse information? Does the FCRA provide a best practice guide for conducting a background check? No.
That is what I mean by there is no standard definition of what constitutes a background check.
I was speaking with a prospective client recently, a large church with multiple campuses and nearing 10,000 members. They said they wanted a quote to compare apples to apples against another quote they had received from a background screening firm that primarily serves the church market. That is generally code for wanting to find the cheapest solution, which is dangerous.
When the business administrator mentioned the screening firm, I directed them to the company’s website. I had him read through their package descriptions. It said they include “free re-verification” of all criminal records found in the national criminal database.
That sounds a lot like they are doing county criminal searches as part of their package, so the prospect would ask why he would pay a couple dollars more per search with us. However, this is a clever marketing tool that makes churches and ministries think they are receiving comprehensive criminal background checks that include national databases AND county criminal searches. In reality, the screening firm is selling only a cheap and incomplete database search, and on the few occasions that a record is found, they will verify it with the court.
The problem is that these databases are terribly incomplete and have high a high failure rate even for sex offenders. These cheap databases only benefit the background screening firm peddling them. Why? Because they are extremely profitable. And you have no idea what you are missing.
It is this lack of transparency that causes so many problems in the background screening industry. And it is not fair to you as the consumer. How can you be expected to be an expert on criminal record systems, courts, databases and legal issues? And now slick marketing is applied to your lack of knowledge on these topics. Is that what you expect from a screening partner?
Today, it has never been more critical to make sure you are partnered with a reputable background check company. The safety and security of your organization depends on it.
Do you want to been joined at the hip with a screening firm that enters the relationship by misleading you? Would you enter a personal relationship with someone who only told you what you wanted to hear? Who only told half-truths?
That would probably be a recipe for divorce. And if your screening firm is not being honest and placing profit above your organization’s safety, then you need to file for divorce.
Selecting a reputable background check company can save you a lot of heartache (and money in the long run). Here are four areas that are impacted by making a poor screening firm selection:
1. Customer Service
I absolutely hate poor customer service. My biggest directive is that our clients and prospective clients can pick up a phone and call us, email us and we will respond. We do not use automated systems. We know the questions you have need to be answered now so you can make a critical decision.
We love our clients. We understand that our clients are our business. We are nothing without them. I have purchased a fantastic book (we do this quarterly) and every employee will read it and then we have book meetings in smaller groups to discuss it. This book is about customer loyalty.
The background screening industry continues to go through mergers and acquisitions. As these huge, publicly traded companies continue to get bigger and bigger, often the customer service suffers tremendously.
The background screening was not founded on a mission to provide high quality background checks. The industry has acquiesced to the wants and desires of those we are supposed to serve by providing something that is instant and cheap.
I wish I could provide a $9 instant background check for all of our clients and know that we are providing a high quality service that protects your organization. However, that is not possible. There is no such thing as an instant background check. They cannot be done. No matter what you have been told.
Poor quality criminal record checks are perpetrated every single day, thousands of times. This is how important it is to select the right background screening partner.
3. Fair Credit Reporting Act
A reputable background check company will be committed to the integrity of the Fair Credit Reporting Act as well as state and local laws. Google FCRA lawsuits and you might be shocked at what you find. Many companies are being sued because they are out of compliance with the FCRA.
There have been an increasing number of lawsuits involving background screening firms who are out of compliance with the FCRA. It is not worth the risk to select a firm because they save you a couple dollars and in the end it costs you millions.
The EEOC has made it clear that they believe the proliferation in criminal record checks is having a disparate impact on some minorities. They offer very specific guidelines for organizations to ensure they are conducting background checks in a responsible manner. Have you received this information from your background screening partner?
The bottom line is that you are not protected just because you are doing background checks. Choosing a reputable background check company might be the most important HR decision you make for your church.
Mike McCarty is the founder and chief executive officer of Safe Hiring Solutions, www.safehiringsolutions.com.