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<i>Dear Workforce</i> How Many People Fail Background Checks

December 5, 2001
QDear Workforce:

Where can I find information on the average number of applicants that do notpass background checks? About 3 percent of our applicants fail and I want to seehow we compare to other large employers.

- Screening, recruitment manager, hospitality, Atlanta, Georgia.

A Dear Screening:

There are no national or official governmental statistics on the number ofapplicants that fail pre-employment background tests. However, variousbackground firms maintain their own numbers. Background firms obviously benefitby pointing out to employers the dangers and pitfalls of hiring without checking an applicant's background.For example, Avert, a screening firm in Colorado, publishes surveys onbackground results.

These numbers, however, are subject to interpretation. For example, onecommon statistic notes up to 30 percent of applications contain material fraud,omissions or misrepresentations. However, it is usually a judgment call todecide where to draw the line between applicants putting themselves in the bestpossible light, as opposed to actual fraud.

As a result, an employer needs to carefully define what they mean by"failing" background checks. For example, just because a criminalrecord is found, does not mean the applicant hid it or failed a backgroundcheck. An applicant may well have self-revealed the criminal record already, andthe purpose of a background check is to merely confirm what the applicantreported.

In addition, not all criminal records are so serious that it wouldnecessarily effect job consideration. For example, a conviction for drivingunder the influence that occurred several years ago may not be relevant to anon-driving position. In addition, just because a criminal record is discovereddoes not mean the person failed. Under EEOC guidelines, it is not an acceptablepractice for an employer to automatically eliminate an applicant because of acriminal record without taking certain factors into account, such as the natureof the crime, the nature of the job duties, and when the offense occurred.

Finally, under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the federal lawgoverning background searches by third parties, an applicant must first be givena copy of any report containing adverse information about them, as well as astatement of their rights, and a meaningful opportunity to dispute the findings.

The rate of failing background checks may also depend upon the industry aswell. Certain industries may have a higher rate of "hits" on criminalsearches than others, by virtue of the nature of the job, the pay scale, and theavailable population to fill the job. If an employer is experiencing a 97percent pass rate, and the employer suspects it is too good to be true, thereare three possibilities.

First, the employer could be utilizing a number of best practices that tendto discourage applicants with something to hide. Employers who utilize certaintechniques do find that they encounter fewer problems when performing backgroundchecks. (See Ten Tools an Employer Can Use for SafeHiring).

Secondly, the particular workforce may statistically be less likely toencounter problems. For example, a biotech firm hiring PhDs may well find thatthey it has a lower rate of criminal "hits" compared to a firm that ishiring a more general workforce.

Third, an employer may be concerned that the screening process is noteffective at obtaining the necessary information, and that they are receivingsome "false negatives," (i.e. applicants with criminal records beingreported as clear). If that is a concern, the best approach is to re-investigatea random sample of applicants by sending out a random number to another firm fora re-investigation. As in any outsourced HR service, it can be useful tooccasionally audit the efficiency of a service provider.

SOURCE: Les Rosen, Employment ScreeningResources, Novato, California, July26, 2001.

LEARN MORE: See "Screen & Glean" for advice on making the rightmatch for openings.

The information contained in thisarticle is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, butshould not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember thatstate laws may differ from the federal law.

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