Behind the Screen Part 1 - Background Check Accuracy is No Laughing Matter
We have decided to pull back the curtain and show you what really makes a good pre-employment background check. Today, we begin a four part series by showing you how solid background screening companies make sure the information you receive is accurate.
We hope this peek behind the curtain answers questions you might have about the process. Enjoy!
Sometimes our industry gets a bad rap.
Whether it’s an article, a lawsuit, or even satire… background screening seems to be in the news pretty regularly.
In all honesty, there are very few industries that don’t get dinged here and there. Mistakes happen - the world is an imperfect place. The important thing to remember is that there are, in fact, many reputable providers in our industry – and we go to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of our reports.
How do we ensure background reports are accurate?
To start, the best background screening companies (also known as Consumer Reporting Agencies or CRAs) typically have large teams of researchers, both in-house and across the country, who are specially trained to look for criminal history records on their clients’ job applicants. (Watch out for the companies that simply plug names into computer databases and call it a day.)
In other words, the best background screeners don’t just plug-and-play. They dive deeper.
Let's use an example:
This may best be explained with an example of what accurate reporting should look like.
Let’s say the CRA finds a record for John Doe. The initial search shows Mr. Doe might have been convicted of assault in 2006 in Missouri.
What does the CRA do?
1) Is it a Common Name?
The first step is to acknowledge that John Doe is a very common name, which means any record reported to the employer will have to undergo an even more rigorous confirmation process.
2) Look for Identifiers
Identifiers are things like middle name, date of birth, a full or partial Social Security Number, a driver’s license number, even an address that puts John Doe in the right location at the right time. So, researchers go directly to the courthouse involved and pull all available records.
Two things can happen at this point:
One - they find identifiers that clearly show the record is for a different guy and John Doe is clear of any charges.
Or, two - they might find information that makes things even more confusing. What if Mr. Doe lived in the right area and has the same SSN, but when looking at his date of birth, it shows he would have been a toddler at the time of the crime? This is obviously a red flag and should trigger further investigation. The first step would be doubling back to make sure it’s not something as simple as data being typed incorrectly in the order or by the court. If that’s not the issue, the CRA should go back to the source.
3) Dig Deeper
With questions like this, the next step would be to pick up the phone. If the courthouse records raise questions, a call should be made to the arresting agency or even the DA. The CRA also might ask the employer to get them a copy of the applicant’s driver’s license to make sure the date of birth on the application was correct. Even a simple data entry mistake can throw the whole thing off.
So, for the sake of our example, once the CRA has checked with their sources and confirmed all the identifiers, they can finally feel confident that the charge belongs to a different John Doe, and the issue is never reported to the employer.
4) What information should be reported?
For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at it as if the record really was John Doe. There are many decisions that will have to be made before reporting anything:
If a pending charge is found, there are a few things to consider. If there is a court date set in the near future, it would be reported -- if the state laws allow. If the record is really old, the CRA would find out why it seems to be in limbo. Sometimes it’s as simple as the DA closing a case but failing to share that information with the courthouse and formally dismissing the case, or maybe the defendant has fled the state and the case is still open.
Each state’s laws would also have to be considered. Some follow the rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); others have laws that preempt the federal guideline.
When it comes to criminal convictions, under the FCRA, they can be reported forever -- again, unless states rule otherwise.
For arrests, non-conviction records, credit reports and civil judgements, the FCRA allows them to be reported for 7 years.
5) Audit, Audit, Audit!
Good background screeners audit -- internally and externally. They should also routinely test their researchers to make sure their results are accurate.
Is Your Screener Accurate?
Even with all of this effort, we understand that mistakes happen. EBI and other screening firms follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s directive to have “reasonable procedures in place to ensure accuracy,” and the applicant has the right to not only see the report but to dispute the information.
The collective goal of the best providers in this industry is to deliver accurate information to the employer while respecting the rights of the consumer. After all, an accurate report serves both the provider and the consumer. And while it’s true that there may be a few bad apples in the batch, there are many who operate with high standards for accuracy.
Are you aware of the process and procedures your screening firm has in place to ensure accuracy and information security? Maybe it’s time to ask… before your company finds itself in the headlines.