Better Safe Than Sued

August 7, 2014

The old adage "better safe than sorry" provides a good lesson when it comes to background screening. A negligent hire can be incredibly damaging to an organization's reputation. Businesses shouldn't wait for something bad to happen before adopting a background checking policy, but rather be proactive in their screening approach.

recent story from Delaware discusses how lawmakers in numerous states are supporting tighter background screening regulations for individuals who assist others in enrolling for health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. These individuals are referred to as "navigators" and have access to confidential information such as health records, financial data, and personally identifiable information including Social Security numbers.

There has been no mishandling of information uncovered to date, and there is nothing to indicate that any abuse of the system has taken place, but already more than a dozen states have passed legislation to mandate screening for these navigators. Many states have gone beyond that and actually stipulated which offenses are serious enough to disqualify an applicant from employment. The proactive approach already adopted by many states as well as the pending bills in others, is intended to help prevent identity theft and offer an added layer of protection for consumers.

The proactive screening legislation in New Mexico has already paid off as criminal record checks on several applicants turned up charges of serious financial crimes, not to mention that one in seven existing navigators where flagged in the FBI's criminal database. Connecticut has also experienced success with their newly implemented background screening legislation, finding criminal records for twenty-one applicants including many felony convictions.

Background checks are most effective when used as a preventative tool. No employer wants their company name in the spotlight for a preventable workplace disaster or negligent hiring lawsuit. Just last month, a Miami tennis club found themselves in the headlines after hiring an instructor who was arrested only months prior for allegedly recording a sexual encounter with a member without her consent. The tennis club did not run a background check on the instructor prior to hiring him, which would have revealed the incident.

Another story recently surfaced about a city councilman who was not subject to a background check and was later found to have a lengthy criminal record including charges of driving under the influence, multiple drug offenses, and hijacking a bus. Thankfully, the councilman has not been accused of abusing his position and has actually been praised for overcoming his past addiction; however, it raised a lot of concern with residents about the city's background screening practices.

The benefits of background screening may include a reduction in employee turnover, prevention of employee violence or negligence, and mitigate the risk associated with fraud, theft and other illegal activity. The benefits far outweigh the cost of the background checks so as a business owner or manager, it is in your best interest to take action.