Ours industry is made up of numerous trustworthy, hard working individuals who are dedicated to protecting the health and safety, as well as, valuable furnishings of many people. As such, we develop very special relationships with our customers. We have access to the personal areas of their homes and offices, most often with no direct supervision from them, at all. They trust us so much that they literally open their homes or offices to us so that we may perform cleaning or restoration services for them. And many times, we employers must depend on others to help us provide those services.
Occasionally you see headlines or hear radio or TV news reports: “Carpet Cleaners Rob Homeowner.” Unfortunately, sometimes, it’s worse. For instance, a few years back, two armed robbers were caught ransacking a residence by homeowners and wound up shooting the husband. This pair of thieves had previously spent hours in the home, just as most of us do in our businesses as cleaners or restorers, “cleaning the carpet.” In this case, they worked for a service that catered to wealthy homeowners. The carpet cleaner-robbers had a clever scheme. One guy actually “cleaned,” while the other cased the contents, alarm systems, doors and windows. So by the time they finished cleaning, they both knew a lot about that house and its security.
These clever theives returned several months after the “cleaning” to rob the home; but this time, they were surprised by the unsuspecting homeowner. When it was finally determined who employed the robbers, the homeowner sued the cleaning service that had employed them. It turned out that both men had criminal records and felony convictions before they were hired. The company was found guilty of “negligent hiring.” The cleaning company owners had to pay $11 million in damages.
“Carpet Cleaner Murders Woman” was the headline that described the tragic, unnecessary loss of Kerry Spooner-Dean, a lovely young pediatrician fromCalifornia. Kerry was a young wife and a highly productive member of her community with a bright future ahead of her. She innocently responded to a “$5.99 per room” carpet cleaning ad. The verdict was $11.22 million. The jury assessed 72% responsibility for this murder to the company that subcontracted the murderer. Needless to say, this bait-and-switch company is gone forever! Unfortunately, so is Kerry Spooner-Dean.
The 9-11 tragedy has reinforced the need for employee screening in large companies, such as janitorial businesses, that have regular access to buildings. In contrast, smaller “Mom-and-Pop” firms still are reluctant to spend resources on background checks. However, it may be even more important for smaller businesses to do the checks, since employees often have multiple responsibilities in these companies. Even a minor employee infraction can hurt your firm's reputation or bank account. And risking an unsuspecting customer’s welfare or life is just plain gross negligence. When you tally up the expense and time it takes to recruit, interview, hire and train an employee, it doesn't make sense to “cut corners” when verifying background details.
Now, I’m not saying you must perform a criminal background check for every potential employee. If you have a small business and are hiring someone you know, such as a close relative or your neighbor’s son, whom you’ve known all his life, this may not be necessary. Similarly, in a small community where everyone knows everybody else and employment turnover is low, it may not be quite as crucial. But to be legal, you must be consistent.
Jeff Bishop, of Clean Care Seminars, who served as an expert witness in the Kerry Spooner-Dean trial suggests mandatory background checks in the following circumstances:
1. larger companies with multiple employees and high turnover
2. companies in large metro areas where it's virtually impossible to get to know prospects intimately
3. companies whose business practices and marketing efforts put them in dozens of homes daily
Still, the only way to way to know for sure is to do the checks. As a minimum, you should check information on an application form and verify basic information on a resume. To check references effectively, you will have to do much more than casually call the people on a list that the candidate supplies. Believe me, the effort is worth it. No other step in the hiring process is more important.
To avoid this pitfall, check references early in the evaluation process. Better than resumes or interviews by themselves, reference checks will tell you how a candidate has performed in the past. And this, more than anything else, predicts how he or she will perform in the future. The most informative references come from people who are, or have been professionally involved with the candidates' day-to-day work. Past supervisors, peers and subordinates are all good sources if they are willing to cooperate.
Keep in mind that some references should be discounted or ignored. For example, character references from close friends and relatives tend to be more glowing than informative. Also, be wary of references from personnel professionals or “head hunters.” They may not be very familiar with the candidate's day-to-day performance, and may be hesitant to reveal anything, no matter how true, which might lead to possible litigation.
To improve your reference verification results, you must first decide who to contact. Remember, you’re not limited to the names a candidate gives you. You often can find excellent reference sources through your industry contacts (IICRC), through professional associations (ISCT), and through any other network that applies (Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau). By doing research, you may reach sources that are more honest and objective. People with no vested interest in your candidate's future tend to be more open.
Before talking to any reference source, however, inform the candidate of your intentions. To protect yourself and your company, you must have written permission from the potential employee. And, there are very strict guidelines that require the permission be on a separate sheet of paper and in a specific size of type when using a third party for investigation.
Then, you must have a discussion with each reference source so that you get the needed information. The telephone is the most useful tool you have in checking credentials. Often a call or two is all it takes to verify education, awards, certifications, and the like. If the candidate's claims don't agree with the facts, you may want to save yourself further research time. Finally, you must evaluate each reference immediately, so that you can quickly reach the right conclusion. If you have checked your references effectively, you'll know enough to make a well informed decision.
The key to protecting your company is doing your best to verify information provided by candidates. Be sure to keep written documentation of your efforts, including whoever you talk to, the dates and the questions you ask, while making every reasonable effort to check out employee statements.
Employers are many times “caught between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to investigating a potential employee. If they do too little, they can be sued. If they do too much, they may be violating federal and state law by making prohibitive inquiries. To avoid appearing discriminatory, treat every candidate equally. Don’t, for example, investigate random candidates or applicants who make you suspicious. Investigate them all in preciously the same manner.
Keep in mind, too, that state and federal laws police the kinds of information employers can use when making employment decisions. Most states follow federal guidelines, but there are variations, withCaliforniabeing the most complicated andNew Yorka close second. Check your state's requirements before proceeding.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1971 (plus significant amendments in the late 1990s), the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 oversee the majority of federal protections for worker privacy and rights. Most regulations kick in only when you hire a third party to do the investigation. If you verify information yourself, many laws do not apply. Even so, research the issues or talk to an employment lawyer or a veteran human resources consultant before beginning. You want to set up clear company policies about screening and select positions that require background checks.
If you do decide to hire an outside firm, most third-party background checks now are completed within three to five days through expert searches of computerized public records and personal databases. When questionable findings are discovered, the investigator may need to follow up just as you would, by phone and personal interviews.
Previously, third party checks ran as much as $200 several years ago. However, as technology has improved, prices have become very affordable. Today, it costs roughly $50 for a professional pre-employment screening. Reports may range from simply verifying social security numbers to full-dress investigations, much of it from public records, including:
- Education records
- Court records of criminal convictions
- Credit reports or bankruptcy filings
- Driving records and vehicle registrations
- Medical records and workers' compensation
- Military service records
- Property ownership
- State licensing records
- Character references or interviews with neighbors
Patti Savelleof Bishop Clean Care in Albany,GA performs background checks on her potential employees back as far as 10 years. Prior to hiring a new bookkeeper several years ago, she discovered that the potential employee had 17 convictions for forgery. In another case, she interviewed a young man whose criminal record check revealed an 8-page rap sheet. This contentious hiring procedure has kept her from making some very costly “hires.”
The task of finding, hiring and retaining good, honest employees is very important for your business, and the well being and safety of your customers. Employing the wrong people can, and will take a toll on your company and your reputation. If you don't check references well, you will inevitably hire the wrong candidate or possibly let some of your best candidates slip by. Both mistakes can be very costly. Invest the time, and more importantly the money, to perform background checks on your prospective employees. It may save your reputation or even your business in the end.