process of selecting a particular individual for
a particular job cannot be reduced to a formula.
It requires the unique skill and judgment of a
professional who knows and utilizes the appropriate
has these resources. Since its inception, API
has tried to demonstrate the value and insure
the availability of public and quasi-public records
as an employment screening tool.
Why Background Investigations?
is no secret that many employers, if not most,
give little attention to pre-employment background
investigations. Instead, the focus is placed on
applications, interviews, resumes, skills test,
and other traditional screening techniques. However,
there are at least five separate reasons why background
investigations should be added to the professional's
We are each a product of our past. The collection
of experiences - good and bad - that defines
our past does not necessarily determine our
future. But, background does clearly influence
what a person can and will become.
Thus, an employer who is interviewing applicants
for employment has an obvious need to know fundamental
facts in the individuals' backgrounds that may
play a role in their futures. The professional's
goal is to find the person who will be best
suited emotionally, temperamentally and skill-wise
for the jobs the company offers. That takes
input from a variety of sources, including background
The second reason employee screening is so important
is the real threat of liability employers now
face under the legal doctrine of "negligent
Courts are now accepting the premise that some
facts in employees' backgrounds should disqualify
them for a given position - a driver with a
long history of recklessness behind the wheel,
a salesperson with a background of violent assault,
a bookkeeper with a record of theft, for example.
If the employee causes a foreseeable injury
to a third party and the court determines that
the employer's failure to detect or heed the
warning sign was unreasonable the company may
be held liable for damages. Since this risk
cannot be easily quantified, employers are advised
to exercise the utmost care in the investigation
and selection of all employees.
Demise of "Employment at Will"
The formerly universal notion that employers
could hire and fire whomever they wanted, whenever
they wanted is slowly eroding.
Different states are proceeding down this path
at varying rates of speed. Some have drawn their
exceptions to "employment at will"
fairly narrowly-for example, prohibiting dismissals
when an employee misses work to serve on a jury.
More protective states go much further. The
most restrictive states actually require that
a worker cannot be dismissed without a showing
of clear and just cause. The employer must document
the reasons behind all dismissals to show there
was an adequate basis for the action.
Employee-initiated lawsuits for "wrongful
discharge" are even more common than those
for negligent hiring. One study showed that
claimants win two-thirds of the cases that go
to trial, with an average jury award of $600,000.
Careful pre-employment screening will reduce
the risk of many wrongful discharge problems
Explosive technological advances in the workplace
increase the dangers of unqualified or unethical
workers. With personal computers now as powerful
as the mainframes of a few years ago, and networks
linking their memories and databases together,
those who are inclined to steal have the potential
to do more damage than ever before.
Sound background investigations will ferret
out man high risk candidates.
Many observers say that falsification or exaggeration
of credentials on resumes and employment applications
are at an all-time high.
An employee who comes into a job under false
pretenses is the wrong person in the wrong job.
The falsification suggests a dangerous character
defect that could resurface in another context
later on. The lack of appropriate qualifications
may also mean that the individual is not objectively
competent for the task. Neither is a problem
an employer can or should ignore.
The need to know
and other facts have led to an inescapable conclusion
- employers simply have to know whom they are
hiring before they hire them. The risks are otherwise
just too great.
can pre-employment background screening be handled?
There are two basic alternatives.
companies retain an outside service bureau to
conduct background checks on a fee basis. The
employer submits required identifiers on the applicants
and the service bureau searches specified source
materials. A variety of tools may be utilized,
depending on the quality of the bureau, the needs
of the employer and the fee paid. Previous places
of employment, educational records, references
and criminal records are usually at the top of
service bureau approach is not without problems.
Quality of these investigations varies widely,
from highly professional and complete to amateurish
and unreliable. Just as important from the employer's
perspective, climbing rates have made many of
the best bureaus prohibitively expensive.
alternative, of course, is the "do-it-yourself"
screening. However, employers can also encounter
various practical problems. A sharp increase in
defamation of character lawsuits has essentially
stopped the flow of information from previous
employers about the applicant's tenure and performance.
Resumes and interviews are successful as employment
screening devices only when the applicant is both
truthful and candid.
The dilemma is real. Security and human resource
professionals have encountered and ever-increasing
need for reliable sources of background data but
a steadily dwindling ability to get it.
has been needed is a mechanism that economically
provides reliable and objective evidence that
will help employers shape their assessments of
applicants' background and potential. Ideally,
the solution should give information on both character