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The 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 resources.

API 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?

It 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 standard practices:

  1. Input
    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 investigations.

  2. "Negligent Hiring"
    The second reason employee screening is so important is the real threat of liability employers now face under the legal doctrine of "negligent hiring."

    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.

  3. 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 later.

  4. Technology
    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.

  5. Exaggerated Credentials
    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

These 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.

Possible Solutions

How can pre-employment background screening be handled? There are two basic alternatives.

Some 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 the list.

The 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.

The 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 missing link
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.

What 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 and competence.

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