The other night, a friend told me about a debate in his homeowners’ association. Some members wanted the association to require contractors to certify that they conduct criminal background checks on all new hires. Others think that’s extreme.
My friend asked me what I thought. I referred him to the Sue Weaver CAUSE website. They can make their point better than I can.
August 27, 2001, Sue Weaver was brutally raped and beaten to death by a twice convicted sex-offender hired to do service work in her home. Sue had contracted with a major department store to have the air ducts in her home cleaned. Burdine’s did not conduct criminal background checks on those workers they sent into their clients’ homes. Sue’s life is over. Had a criminal background check been done, Sue might still be alive today. The Sue Weaver C.A.U.S.E. was created to promote Consumer Awareness of Unsafe Service Employment.
The organization makes two very good points on the site. First, criminals often use their employment to find their next victim. And, second, “bonded and insured” doesn’t mean that a background check has been done.
That’s a good case. Make sure companies you do business with and who will send people into your home are looking out for your safety.
And, if your business does a criminal background check on everyone you hire, it’s something you should be telling your customers about. After all, you’re helping look out for their safety.
By making sure that a national criminal background check is part of the process for everyone you hire, you’re doing something to keep your employee and your customers safe. So tell people about it. It can also be a way to set yourself apart from your competition.
The Federal Drive, a show on Federal News Radio recently offered the following advice to job seekers: Background check in your future? Don’t lie! One of the things that I got out of the material is the difference between the federal government and other employers.
The show included comments from Debra Roth. She’s a partner in the firm of Shaw, Bransford and Roth, that specializes in Federal employment law. Here’s just one comment. “Lying to the federal government almost always, in current times, will get you criminal charges.”
That’s probably not true for your company. The biggest stick you’ve got is that lying on an application is cause for termination. But there is something that the feds do can make your hiring and background check process more effective.
The government uses questionnaires to gather information. That’s a good process for two reasons.
First, it assures that you ask the same questions in the same way every time. And the answers will be in the applicants own handwriting, so there’s no chance of “misquoting” as can happen when you ask the questions in an interview and write down the response.
Here’s another idea you can use. The feds use two different questionnaires.
There’s form SF 86 (Questionnaire for National Security Positions) and form SF 85 (Questionnaire for Non-sensitive Positions). You can do something similar.
Obviously, you don’t have any “national security positions” at your organization. But you do have positions with access to money or to confidential records.
Creating separate forms and process for sensitive (access to money or to confidential records) and non-sensitive positions allows you to ask different questions and run different checks based on the position. That should make your process more effective and consistent, which is a good thing in today’s lawsuit-happy world.
PI Newswire, a news service for private investigators, splashed the following headline across the screen of my computer. Jury Finds Housing Authority Negligent in Elderly Woman’s Murder after Tenant Background Check Misses Neighbor’s Criminal Past. Here’s part of the lead.
A jury recently ruled that negligence by the Housing Authority in a North Carolina city led to an elderly woman’s death at the hands of her crack cocaine addicted neighbor in 2007.
The sons of the woman asked for more than $10 million in damages. The “negligence” was not conducting a proper background check on the neighbor. If you’re a landlord or you hire people, there are three lessons about background checks you can learn from this story.
You can be sued for not conducting a proper background check if a person you select as a tenant or a person you hire commits a crime of violence. If you lose the case, the award could be huge.
“Proper” means doing a check using a reputable service like SentryLink that offers national coverage. The Housing Authority did a background check, but it was only of North Carolina records.
You should have a standard procedure to check out prospective tenants and employees. If you don’t, put that at the top of your To Do list. Your procedure should include background checks and other steps to keep the dangerous and deceitful away from the good people who rent from you or work for you.
Once you have a procedure, follow it. Use checklists and other simple aids to make sure you do all the steps in the proper order every time.
This isn’t just about preventing lawsuits. It’s about protecting the people who rent from you and the people who work for you.
The April 2010 issue of Risk Management has a great article titled: Finding and Fixing Corporate Misconduct. After noting reports that misconduct had declined during 2009, the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) says the following.
According to the results from more than 300,000 employees in over 75 countries, this “decline” in misconduct during 2009 is actually misleading, as it pertains to less severe and risky behaviors such as the misuse of company resources or other ‘inappropriate behavior.’
In other words, no matter what you may have heard, there’s pretty good evidence that more serious forms of misconduct actually increased last year. What can you do about it?
The CEB says that you want to create a “culture of integrity.” And the most important thing to count on is what they call “Organizational Justice.” Basically, it’s the perception among employees that you mean business about your standards and rules.
The CEB suggests three steps for creating an atmosphere of organizational justice. Here they are with my idea of what that means in an everyday, practical sense.
(1) Equip managers to decisively deal with unethical behavior.
Equipping managers means giving them the tools to hire smart, including a background check for any position of trust and pre-employment or routine credit checks for appropriate positions. It also means supporting managers when they make tough calls.
That’s the sort of thing you read often on this blog. But the CEB’s next two steps are also important and don’t get nearly enough attention.
(2) Show the whole employee population-using real instances from within the company-that the company deals decisively with misconduct.
You can’t skirt this one. The only way that your people will know you’re serious is by what you do. Talk will only take you so far.
(3) Close the loop with employees who report misconduct so that they know that appropriate actions were taken.
There are two big reasons why honest employees don’t report wrongdoing. They may see it as dangerous. And they may see it as a waste of time. Keep them safe. Make sure they know that their conscientious behavior had a result.
At the end of the day, this is all about walking the walk. If you do that, it will make your talk about honesty and integrity more powerful. If you don’t that talk will just be empty words.
If you spend time online or watching television, you could get the idea that the media don’t want you to use credit checks as part of your hiring process. Here are two examples.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled: Bad Credit Derails Job Seekers. The lead told the story of Rosa, a single mother of three, who wasn’t hired because of (she thinks) a poor credit report.
MNBC had Bad Credit Sidelines Some Jobless Workers. They led with the story of a woman who “believes an unpaid medical bill cost her a full-time job.”
You’re going to see more stories like those two. And they come at a time when state legislatures are considering legislation that would ban the use of credit reports in hiring. There are three reasons why the media run stories like this.
It’s a feeding frenzy. When one medium is successful with a story, others crank out similar stories.
The media loves human interest stories, especially where the villain is a business of some kind and the victim can be portrayed as helpless. People read stories like that. They lure advertising which is how most media make their money.
Those are two reasons. You can’t do anything about either one.
But, there’s a legitimate issue here. The two stories above tell us that they let the report make the hiring decision.
If that’s true, then, if either business had dug into the reason for the poor credit report, they would have discovered issues that had nothing to do with responsibility. And, if they had done that, they might have come to a different decision.
That’s what you can do something about. You can’t stop the media from writing heartstring-tugging stories about job seekers done wrong because they had bad credit. But you can make sure that you do things right.
Follow the law. Follow good business practice. And use a pre-employment credit report as a source of information that can help you make a sound business hiring decision.
The question, “Who blows the whistle on corporate fraud?” is also the title of an article that will be published in the Journal of Finance. To find the answer, the authors studied “all reported fraud cases in large U.S. companies between 1996 and 2004.” Here’s the answer they came up with.
“We find that fraud detection does not rely on standard corporate governance actors (investors, SEC, and auditors), but takes a village, including several non-traditional players (employees, media, and industry regulators).”
That’s good news. It means that you’ve probably got honest employees on the payroll who may spot fraud, even if the government or the board of directors can’t do it.
But there’s also bad news here. Whistle-blowers are a rare breed indeed. Whistle-blowing is an act that takes courage. Many whistle-blowers suffer some kind of reprisal. So for one of your people to catch fraud they have to be honest, placed in a position where they can spot the fraud, able to identify it, and brave enough to bring it to your attention.
And you have no way of knowing how long fraud will go on before it gets caught. It might be only a little while. But it might be years.
So while that village might be your best bet to detect fraud, that’s just shouting “the horse is loose” after the horse is out of the barn and running hard. If you want to cut your fraud losses, prevention beats detection every time. There are three steps.
Hire smart. Use criminal background checks and credit checks as part of your process for everyone who will be in a position of trust.
Don’t stop with hiring. Use a similar process when you move someone into a position of trust. And consider making routine checks a requirement for anyone in such a position.
Set up good internal controls. Most of the time fraud happens because we make it easy for the bad guys. Your accountant can help make sure you’ve got good fraud prevention practices in place and working.
This is another one of those places where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound or two of cure.
Normally, the world of screening and security has me reading reports on fraud and stupid corporate stunts. Every now and then, though, my Google Alerts throw something juicier up on my screen. That’s what happened this week.
A blog named MomLogic published a post by Dr. Wendy Walsh with the title, “Sandra Didn’t Believe the Background Check.” The supermarket tabloids could not have done better.
Here are the basics of the tawdry story. When Sandra Bullock met Jesse James, her tattoo-sporting, biker husband, he was married, for the second time. His wife was pregnant. He had two children by his first wife.
Now several women have come forward claiming affairs with Jesse. Sandra Bullock is consulting divorce attorneys.
There’s no reference in the blog post to any actual background check. So what does one more Hollywood divorce have to do with background checks and with you? Here’s the answer from Dr. Walsh.
“It’s an old adage, but: If you want to predict someone’s future behavior, look no further than their past behavior. As Sigmund Freud so brilliantly observed, ‘Human beings have a compulsion to repeat.’”
That’s one reason we do background checks. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Background checks help you discover any past behavior that an applicant might not willingly share.
This is especially important when it looks like you’ve got just the right person and get excited about it. When that person looks like they might be the perfect employee or tenant it’s easy to get excited and overlook things.
That’s when a step-by-step, check-the-boxes screening process that includes a background check can save you. That’s when a background check is your reality check.
“Are you a scarecrow?” my mother would ask, usually arching one eyebrow. The correct response was, “No Ma’am.”
The scarecrow my mother was referring to was the one in the Wizard of Oz. If you’re not familiar with that tale, let me refresh your memory.
Dorothy, a young girl living in Kansas, is picked up by a tornado and whisked away to a different place. To get home, she will have to follow the yellow brick road to Oz where the Wizard can send her home.
Dorothy makes the trip with three friends who all want something from the Wizard. There is the Cowardly Lion who wants courage. There is the Tinman who wants a heart. And there is the Scarecrow. He wants a brain.
I wish my mother was still around to ask her Scarecrow question when I read about the case of Ray Fetcho. Fetcho was a nurse, beloved by the families of the dementia patients he has cared for more than three decades.
He just lost his job because he was arrested in 1976 for a misdemeanor connected to a night club act. He has no other criminal record. Here’s how the Sun Sentinel explains the situation.
“The state has been cracking down on caregivers with criminal records since a Sun Sentinel series last fall found people with the most serious offenses — rape, child abuse, even murder — had slipped through because of flaws in Florida’s background screening system.”
I would ask the state officials: “Are you a scarecrow?”
The state is making a mistake that lots of businesses make when they use background checks and pre-employment credit checks. They don’t use their brains.
They use draw simple black and white lines and create zero tolerance policies because they don’t want to take the time and effort to think. HR blogger Jason Seiden has it right: the case of Ray Fetcho.
Use background checks. They’ll help you make better hiring decisions. But they’ll only help. You have to use your brain. You cannot be a scarecrow.
The Wall Street Journal has been adapting articles from their forthcoming Small Business Guidebook and publishing them in the paper and on their site. Here’s a powerful paragraph from one of those articles, titled: How to Avoid Hiring a Bad Egg.
Small businesses, unfortunately, are particularly vulnerable to embezzlement and other kinds of employee theft because they lack the checks and balances of big corporations. One report by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that the median loss for small firms with fewer than one hundred employees was $190,000. The most common schemes? Employees fraudulently writing company checks, skimming revenues and processing phony invoices.
Here’s the question for you. If you’re a small business, can you afford to lose almost $200,000?
If the answer is “No,” then start protecting yourself by improving your hiring. The Journal article includes several tips. The idea is to set up a hiring process that catches possible bad actors before you hire them.
Standardize your process. Take the same steps every time. Use the same forms. Use simple checklists to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Ask tough questions. Ask about gaps in work history. Ask about relations with the boss and co-workers. Ask about anything that might be a potential problem.
Check references. It’s amazing how many companies don’t do this.
Use background checks. The Journal puts it this way: “Preemployment checks can screen out applicants who may be unfit (or dangerous) for your workplace because of a criminal record.”
Have your attorney review your process to make sure that you comply with both state and federal laws. Then, make sure that the steps you must take to meet legal and regulatory requirements are part of a hiring checklist.
Hiring may not seem like your “real work,” but it is. Having a good process and following it rigorously is a way to keep from hiring that bad egg. It’s that ounce of prevention you’ve heard about.
In Farmington, New Mexico, the job description for a Court Services Coordinator (similar to a probation officer) lists the following. “Certified substance abuse counselor or five (5) years experience in the criminal justice system required.” That usually means “working for a criminal justice agency” not “as a criminal being processed by the system.”
But, it turned out that Court Services Coordinator Christos Derizotis had lots of experience in the criminal justice system that the city didn’t know about. According to an article in DUI Attorney headlined “City official fired over New Mexico DWI arrest,” it was only after Derizotis had been arrested for DUI that they discovered that had six prior DUI charges and:
“officials learned Derizotis had been convicted of battery, false imprisonment, criminal damage and impersonating a police officer in the past.”
But wait, as the late-night pitchmen say, there’s more. According to the Farmington Daily Times, Derizotis was also “sentenced to six years in the Federal correctional Institution La Tuna in Anthony, Texas, in 1985 for bank larceny.” He was paroled in 1989, but nine months later he was arrested again for violating the terms of his parole.
How did this happen? The Farmington paper suggests that it might have been a bit of favoritism. Derizotis is the son of a former Magistrate Judge.
They may be right, but I think the real explanation is much simpler. The city never ran a criminal background check on him. They only ran those on people applying for positions that handled money and information technology jobs.
According to the Farmington Daily Times, city human resources director, Donna Brooks said, “This will prompt us to do (criminal background checks) on probation type of people.” It should.
Doing regular criminal background checks on people who will occupy positions of trust is a way to head off embarrassment and make an informed decision about the candidate. If I were Ms. Brooks, I’d be thinking about where else the city ought to be conducting background checks.
The American entrepreneur and department store executive, John Wannamaker, once said that “Half of all the money I spend on advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”
Sounds to me like what you face with resumes these days. You know there may be falsehoods mixed in amongst the truth. But it’s hard to tell which is which.
It just got harder. In an article advising job seekers on truthful strategies for dealing with problem references and resume gaps, CNN discusses web sites that will fake your references for a price. They identify one such site, CareerExcuse.com.
This goes way beyond the buddy who will pretend to be your old boss. This is serious stuff.
This service will let an applicant decide on what field of employment, dates, and salary they want. They will provide a fake paycheck stub and a reference letter.
If a candidate wonders about whether they can get caught using the service and perhaps fired, CareerExcuse has a simple answer: “We can’t guarantee that you wont [sic] and not liable if you do. If you get the job in the first place.we did our part. It’s up to you to act responsible after you get the job.” Grammatical mistakes left in.
So what can you do? The best defense is a rigorous, disciplined hiring process.
Review all documents carefully. Use criminal checks as part of the process. Cross-check information.
Interview thoroughly and carefully. Ask questions about job history in different ways and at different points in the interview.
Have qualified people assess competency in specific areas. Use tests if appropriate.
Follow up on all references. Check more than just the most recent references. Talk to real people.
John Phillips is one of the country’s leading experts on employment law. The good news for us is that he writes an excellent blog, The Word on Employment Law. There, he puts what he knows into terms that non-lawyer HR people and real-life managers can understand and use.
His February 16, 2010 post, “Alabama Shooting and Background Checks,” is a good example of his work. Biology professor, Amy Bishop, of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, is facing murder charges after killing three staff members and injuring three others on February 12, 2010. Here are two key paragraphs from Phillips’ post.
My guess is that Dr. Bishop wasn’t subjected to any background check. She was, after all, a college professor. Maybe, the two shady events in her past wouldn’t have shown up in a background check, depending on its thoroughness. But they may have.
Some employers that use drug tests and background checks do so selectively. Front-line employees are always tested. At various levels up the chain, other employees are tested. But a line is usually drawn somewhere. Are employers really going to ask an executive to submit to a drug test or background check? Often, they do not.
Phillips’ observation and my experience match up. Companies will do a background check on people who work the loading dock or the reception desk. But, they’re less likely to do a check on applicants for key executive positions. That’s just dumb.
Executives can be criminals, too. Executives can fudge the information on their resumes. Executives can get into financial trouble that makes them more likely to be tempted to steal or to rig the numbers that determine their compensation. And if a bad-apple executive slips through the net, you’re putting him or her in a position where they can do lots of damage.
The reason we do criminal background checks and pre-employment credit checks isn’t because we think any one person may cause problems. It’s because we know human nature. Some people will lie and cheat and steal. Others won’t. But you can’t tell by looking which is which.
That’s why it’s a good idea to use background checks as part of your hiring process. And that’s why it’s a good idea to do it for everyone, even the people who may sit in the executive suite.
The popular KnowHR blog recently ran a post that generated lots of comment from HR types. The title was A Master’s Class in Hiring a Person With Credit Wrecked By Bad Health and Being Laid Off.
The blogger shared the story of a person who’d been out of work for some time because of medical problems. Because he was out of work and had medical bills, his credit suffered. The blogger asked how other HR people would handle the use of a credit report in hiring or not hiring the person.
The discussion devolved into a question of whether or not you should use a credit check if a position is not, as once commenter put it, “cash sensitive.” But this isn’t an either/or kind of question. The real question is: “How do you use a pre-employment credit check?”
A credit check gives you straight credit information, of course. But it also gives you some data on addresses and employment. You can check that data against resume or application entries.
No matter how you use it, a credit check should never make your hiring decision for you. Use it as a starting point for questions. Use it as one of several sources of information.
In the case of the person the blogger wrote about, the claim was that the sole cause of the poor credit was the combination of job loss/medical expenses. If that’s true, then the current credit situation might not be a barrier to hiring.
But you have to keep asking questions. It seemed like the job was a technical job, such as in an IT department. That probably wouldn’t be “cash sensitive.” But it might be “confidential or cash records sensitive.”
Note that I used the words “might” and “could” in the above paragraphs. That’s because each situation is different. Your pre-employment credit check and background check are tools you can use to generate questions that help you make the right decision in each, individual case.
The Macon Telegraph recently ran a story with this provocative headline: “Problem principals: Bibb school leaders had problems at previous jobs.” Here’s the lead.
In the past 18 months, four Bibb County principals were investigated for allegations ranging from choking a student and mismanaging federal money to testing blunders and having an affair with a subordinate.
Three of the principals had repeated problems in previous jobs, and the other one was the subject of several complaints before he was placed on paid leave and then resigned, school records show.
Those “problems in previous jobs” are the things that background checks are supposed to catch. They did. Once you catch something, you need to take some action.
A criminal background check does you no good if you don’t use what you find. Usually, that means you use it as a starting point for investigation.
Investigation is the key. After investigating one of the principals who had “issues” in a previous job, Bibb County hired him anyway. Here’s how Sylvia McGee, Bibb County’s deputy superintendent put it: “We want strong principals who are going to be what we consider to be change agents.”
The principal in question had improved the test scores at the school where he was. This particular hire turned out to be controversial. But McGee is sure that the district gets it right most of the time.
Even if they do, this story raises a bigger question for Bibb County and for you. What are your overall hiring criteria? What is it you’re looking for? What are you willing to sacrifice or overlook to get it?
The way you use your background checks and pre-employment credit checks should help you meet your goals. They can help you ask the questions that help you make an informed and conscious hiring decision.
But the information you get on those checks won’t make the decision for you. And they can’t guarantee that every decision will turn out the way you want.
Theft you will always have with you. The fact is that people steal. They will steal from you. They will steal from you no matter what you do.
You can throw up your hands and let the thieves have their way. Or do something about it.
Start by being aware of some of the many ways that employees steal. It comes to you courtesy of one of the standard professional references: The Small Business Fraud Manual from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Here are just a few ways that employees can get into your pocket.
They steal cash. They may take money right out of the till or the petty cash fund.
They steal by setting up phony vendors and paying them. This is a bit more sophisticated, but very common. Putting in for more pay than they deserve is a variation of this one.
They steal inventory or supplies. Sometimes this is low-cost items, like office supplies. Sometimes it’s merchandise or machines worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
They steal by using equipment for their personal needs. This can be anything from hand tools or the office copier to giant construction equipment and sophisticated computers.
What can you do? Start with good hiring.
Use criminal background checks and pre-employment credit checks to help you spot potential trouble. Be sure to check references.
Set up policies and procedures that make it hard to steal or misuse equipment and that make it easy to catch when it happens. Your accountant can offer guidance on good fraud prevention practice.
Enforce the policies you have. Just having a policy or procedure in the manual isn’t enough. Use it. Simple checklists can help you stay focused and thorough.
Make it a policy to run background checks and credit checks on people in positions of trust, especially those who handle money or authorize expenditures. Don’t just do this when they’re hired. Update your checks on a regular basis. If you spot signs of trouble, dig a little deeper.
There will always be thieves and good people who steal “just this once.” But you can use good business practice and fraud prevention tools to keep your business as safe and profitable as possible.
I love old black-and-white Western movies. One standard scene involved two trains speeding through the country toward each other. You knew that if something didn’t happen, there’d be a big, nasty wreck.
That’s the scene in business today. Except, instead of two trains we’ve got screening practices and legislative efforts to make sure that everyone gets a fair shot at a job speeding toward each other.
Over the last decade, more and more companies have started using criminal background checks and pre-employment credit screening. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But many of the employers who’ve climbed on the background screening train simply haven’t’ followed the rules. They’re not giving the notice and getting the permission that laws require. They’re using background screening as a quick way to turn a big pile of applicants into a smaller pile, without tying decisions to legitimate business purpose.
Those kinds of slipshod practice result in some people being denied employment unfairly. As more and more of them complain, the legislators are taking note. Workforce Management describes it this way:
“Congress is considering a bill that would prevent employers from using credit reports in their hiring or promotion decisions. In June, Hawaii joined Washington state in limiting the use of credit checks in pre-employment screening; bans or restrictions also are under consideration in Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, Missouri, New York and Texas. A California bill that restricts credit checks in pre-employment screening cleared the state Legislature in 2008 and 2009, only to be vetoed twice by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
You can’t do much about what the legislators do. But you can protect yourself by using screening tools the right way.
Follow the law. Make sure you know what you can and can’t do.
Be consistent. Use good business process to do things the same way every time. Make hiring decisions on clear, written criteria that you apply in every case.
Make sure that you tie your decisions to legitimate business purpose.
You probably won’t be able to stop the train wreck. But, by doing things right, you can keep from getting hurt when it happens.
Recently, HR Morning carried an article titled: “EEOC warns about background checks.” It’s about the E-RACE program. Here’s a core paragraph.
“The EEOC program designed to combat discriminatory practices tied to background checks is called E-RACE (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment). It started when the agency noted, in the last few years, a steep climb in complaints from applicants who said they were unfairly excluded from competing for a job because of information that showed up on a background check.”
The key word here is “unfairly.” If you’re using background checks the right way you should be in compliance with the program.
Here are some guidelines. Note that I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV. But I have been around the hiring process for a while and I know that the key thing isn’t whether you use background checks, but how you use them.
Check everyone. If you’re just checking people of a certain race or gender or age or from only one part of town, it’s like hanging an “I’m discriminating” sign around your neck.
If you’re going to refuse to hire an otherwise-qualified person because of their criminal record, make sure the record is relevant to the job. Consider the nature of the offense and when it occurred.
If there’s a record, but it doesn’t point to a specific problem on the job, it still may point to character issues. Just remember that the background check alone won’t be enough.
Use what you’ve found as the starting point for questions. Combine it with what you discover on your pre-employment credit check to make those questions sharper.
Remember: background checks and pre-employment credit reports can be great tools to make your hiring more effective. But you’ve got to use them to make good and fair business judgments.
Labor attorney Todd Wozniak, writing in QSR (Quick Serve Restaurant) lays out a program that will help you reduce the threat of workplace violence, beginning with conducting background checks on all applicants. His article is titled “Violence in the Workplace.”
Wozniak starts by sharing a few stunning statistics. Did you know that assaults and violent acts account for 14 percent of workplace deaths? Did you know that workplace violence costs employers $36 billion a year?
Did you know that almost three quarters of employers have no formal program that addresses workplace violence? What about your company?
There are lots of reasons you should address the threat of workplace violence. A safe workplace is more productive. Morale is higher. And then, there’s the law.
As Wozniak points out OSHA requires an employer to provide a workplace that’s “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” Here’s how he suggests you proceed.
Do a diligent job of hiring, including background checks on applicants.
Create a threat management team.
Assess vulnerabilities on a regular basis.
Adopt violence prevention policies.
Conduct regular training.
None of these things is rocket science. None of them cost a lot. The trick is to cover your employment situation from beginning to end, to have clear policies and procedures, and to make sure that you follow them diligently and consistently.
Many of the stories I see about background checks have a familiar theme. “Background checks are a good idea, but I don’t want you to check on me.” That’s why a story out of Rapid City, South Dakota stands out.
The headline reads: “Ice cream vendors embrace background checks.” Here’s the lead.
Details of Rapid City’s proposed background-check requirement for ice cream vendors are still being hashed out, but truck operators say they won’t have a problem with the new rule if it is implemented.
The first question is: “Why do background checks on ice cream vendors?” They may not seem like a potential threat, but think back to the last time you were at a public park in the summer.
Remember what happens when the ice cream truck comes around. Kids beg parents for ice cream. Moms and dads hand over money and send their little darlings off to the truck.
You hardly ever see a parent who walks to the ice cream truck with their child. And that means that a vendor with evil intent toward a child may have the opportunity to snatch one up.
So Rapid City is drafting an ordinance to do a criminal background check on ice cream vendors. And the vendors, unlike some folks, say that’s just fine with them.
In fact, Keith Storm, one of the vendors only really has one concern. He hopes the process won’t be a burden, since he already went through a background check to sell ice cream around schools.
So here’s a hearty “Bravo!” for Rapid City’s ice cream vendors and a hope that the city doesn’t squander that feeling of good citizenship with silly regulations and process and costs.
A story in the Muskogee Phoenix headlined: “Wanted: Students, not felons” describes how some colleges are now including criminal background checks in their application process. Here’s an excerpt.
Along with their grades and residence status, high school seniors face another important question on their college applications: ‘Have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ And many colleges, including the University of Oklahoma and nursing programs at Connors State College and Northeastern State University, back that question up with criminal background checks.
In other words, what happens is that the college asks an applicant if he or she has a felony conviction. If the answer is “No,” they proceed with the admissions process. If they answer “Yes,” the college runs a background check.
This strikes me as dangerous. In the interests of streamlining the process for people with no criminal record, they put those same people at risk.
Think about it. In common law as practiced in most of the US, a felony is a crime that carries a possible sentence of a year or more in prison. We’re talking things like battery, arson, burglary, illegal drug sales, embezzlement, grand theft, robbery, murder, rape, kidnapping and fraud.
It seems to me that if a man or woman has been convicted of a crime like that, they’re more likely to lie than a person without a criminal record. That’s why I’d like to see criminal background checks as part of every college admissions process.
My guess is that would discourage some felons from applying at all. It would identify others so an informed decision can be made about whether they pose a threat to other students or not.
Cade Roberts who plans to attend Oklahoma would agree. He asks: “What if you get a roommate with a background of gang activity or if you get a felon you don’t know about.”
I say, “Check ‘em all.”