Whether they are man-made or caused by calamities like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, delays in background checks can have far reaching consequences. Businesses can’t hire so positions go unfilled, applicants face a longer wait for that paycheck, and work just doesn’t get done.
During the height of the Houston storm and the horrific aftermath, there were 29 counties in Texas and 13 in Louisiana that had their court systems completely shut down. As Irma has passed through the southeast, federal courts in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina closed for a couple of days. County courts throughout Florida remained closed on Tuesday. While this makes for a huge mess for lawyers, judges, clerks, and even defendants in the region, the ripple effect, when it comes to completing background checks, can and will be felt in every corner of the country.
Some background screening companies will tell you that the shutdown of these courts will have no effect on their results. This just can’t be true… not if they are fully vetting and confirming criminal record “hits.”
Yes, many of the courts have automated systems. All you have to do is put in an applicant’s name and you will be notified electronically if that person has a record. But that hit is only the first step. A responsible background screener will not report that hit to an employer until supporting documentation is reviewed. In some cases, this information is not included in the automated system and requires a physical court visit. This important step is skipped by many companies, but it’s not only good business, it can literally save heartache for an innocent person. Verifying records catches all kinds of mistakes that can cause applicants to lose job opportunities.
Some of the common issues are:
- Expunged records or dropped charges still show up in county records because of slow record keeping.
- The automated system does not include complete disposition information.
- A record has the same name and date of birth as your applicant, but a closer look at a middle initial or some other personal detail reveals your candidate is not the one guilty of a crime.
- Some courts redact parts of birthdays or social security numbers, so without a closer inspection it is hard to be sure the record in question belongs to your applicant.
So even if you own a business in Maine, Oregon or Florida, you could start seeing delayed results if you are trying to hire someone who lived, worked, or even went to school in the areas hit by the storm.
As we mentioned, not all massive screening delays are caused by Mother Nature. The federal government is dealing with one that can be fully blamed on humans. Right now more than 700,000 job applicants are stuck in a backlog trying to get their security clearances. According to a report in the Washington Post it now takes more than 450 days to finish the background checks needed to get top secret security clearance. This is more than 6 months longer that it had been taking just a year ago.
There are several reasons why this log jam is happening. Of course, the obvious - top clearance takes a lot longer to obtain than getting the ok to work in a restaurant or big box store. But the real damage goes back to two major events: National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaking classified information and the Office of Personnel Management hacking. Since then the backlog has grown exponentially. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget no longer even bothers publishing statistics on the mountain of applications waiting for attention. The shortage of approved talent is wreaking havoc for companies with government contracts.
Both the storm and the government backlog show how important reasonable turnaround time is when it comes to background checks. But for the time being, employers across the country should be prepared for delays when vetting applicants who have lived and worked in the storm-ravaged areas.