Conducting Employee Background Checks Being Safe at Home

Typically the sources of terror in horror movies come from ghouls and zombies. Victims in these films find themselves trapped in an abandoned warehouse or haunted mansion with no chance of escape or survival. Moviegoers feel appropriately freaked out as they leave the theater and head back to the safety and security of their condo or quiet suburban HOA.

But what about the seemingly creepy new maintenance man? Or the door-person who seems a little too eager to chat with residents about what’s in their shopping bags as they enter the lobby? Or the custodian who was surreptitiously digging through the trash bins last week?

Home & Office

While most people look at a condo or co-op and see just a residential building—but to many others, that building is their office. Building personnel can include managers, janitorial staff, maintenance crews, delivery/mail room employees, even concierges. When you are sitting down for breakfast, they might be punching in—and it’s important to residents and building managers to know that these employees are able to do their job and that each individual is stable, trustworthy, and dependable. That's why the employee screening process is so important to everyone living and working under the same roof.

Let’s imagine that an association manager is looking for a new doorman. After conducting a search based on the condo association’s criteria, the manager finds a few prospective candidates. According to Lindsay Thompson of Strategies for HireRight, “Based on our experiences with our client base, the most common employment background screening services requested by U.S. employers typically include all or some of the following: criminal record checks, employment verifications, education and credential verifications, motor vehicle record checks, sex offender registry checks, and drug testing.”

As Barry J. Nadell of Nadell Investigations in Los Angeles explains, the employer (in this case the association or building manager) might also hire a background screening company to obtain criminal conviction reports if any and identify any misstatements made on the application.

For someone who is new to the hiring and background check process—or has typically just taken a cursory look at the applicant’s Facebook page for any incriminating photos or posts and called it a day—there are certain red flags that they should look for in an applicant’s work or legal history as indicated on their application or in their interview. As Thompson explains, “An applicant with a criminal history record is usually the most critical and concerning for employers from a safety and liability standpoint. For verifications of employment and education, employers should watch out for discrepancies that contradict an applicant's stated competencies, or demonstrate dishonesty.”

This can mean doing more homework or investigation into a resume or application form, says Peter V. Christiansen, Esq., founder and president of Protection Plus Security Corporation, a security consulting firm with offices in Manhattan, Long Island and Trenton. Things like a very poor credit history without explanation should raise an alarm, as should unwillingness to submit to a drug test. Some commonly-missed items also include “failing to check references, stated qualifications and educational background. You want to go to where they worked before. How long were they there? Why are they no longer with that company? Talk to their immediate past supervisor and get references.”

Raising a Red Flag

The glaring red flag of a criminal history is obviously something to be aware of and concerned by, but how an employer assesses and processes that information is subjective. As Thompson explains, “It's really dependent on the background screening policy of the employer making the hiring decisions and the particular position being filled. Some employers don’t have a background screening policy in place today, which creates risk. Creating a policy is one of the first things we would recommend to employers. Creating a background screening policy will also require the employer to determine their specific background screening standards and procedures and will communicate that information to those in a position to make hiring decisions.” What might be a red flag or a risk to one employer might have minimal significance to another. Having this clear policy set well before the job is posted and applicants appear will save time and possibly issues in the future.

Also, Thompson says the cost of employee turnover is high, so the more informed you can be before making a hiring decision, the better. “Keep in mind that a number of things must be considered when using criminal record information in making hiring decisions, including applicable federal and state laws.” If you are also concerned about how hiring such a person could have legal ramifications for the association or the hiring manager, you should consult a qualified Human Resources professional and/or legal counsel for guidance.

Weighing the Risks

So say following an initial interview, the doorman our theoretical HOA manager wants to hire turns out to have a criminal record but is otherwise entirely competent, friendly, and an overall excellent candidate for the job. The employer or hiring manager doesn’t have to immediately discard the candidate from the applicant pool, though Thompson explains, “One of the best indicators of future behavior is past behavior. It’s common for employers to look at background screening as a way to potentially reduce the risk of workplace violence, theft, fraud, and negligent hiring claims.”

Nadell also adds that the hiring decision could also be influenced by the “…nature and gravity of the [applicant's] crime, amount of time elapsed since it occurred, and what job is being applied for.” For example, if the doorman candidate has a petty theft on their record from more than 20 years ago, and has a proven record since then of consistent, quality work and letters of recommendation, this past offense may have no bearing or concern on their ability to do the job well and appropriately now.

Along with theft prevention and aiming to hire employees who will act appropriately around tenants, “Employers should consider maintaining a drug free workplace,” says Nadell. Drug testing “is an important part of the background screening process, and is most commonly conducted before an individual is hired and at random times during employment depending on the particular background screening policy in place,” adds Thompson. “Studies have shown that employee drug use can lead to increased workplace accidents, lower productivity and increased absenteeism. It’s an important practice to consider for most jobs, critical for others, and for some it may be required by industry regulations or the law.”

Protecting Yourself & Others

Employers or hiring managers should take care to not only protect the residents of the building, but also themselves during the hiring process. “It is recommended that you consult legal counsel to assist you in developing and reviewing your policy to ensure compliance with all applicable laws,” says Thompson, “and it’s important that you follow your background screening policy consistently.”

She goes on to say, “When establishing a background screening policy, it is important to explain why you conduct background screening, and to connect the searches being conducted to the specific requirements of the organization and the positions being hired for. You should tie your background screening policy as closely as possible to the specific job—not only to protect yourself against discrimination or other potential claims but also so you get the best person for the job.”

Questions to ask during an interview may vary based on the job being filled. Because there is not a set list of questions for every position available, Thompson recommends that employers consult a qualified HR professional or employment law counsel to find out what interview or screening questions are not acceptable or are legally invalid.

“You can't actually ask if an applicant was convicted of a crime,” says Christiansen. “You cannot ask if they were arrested for any reason. You also can't ask anything about their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or their date of birth.”

Staying on the right side of anti-discrimination and privacy laws is every bit as vital as hiring the right person in the first place, and asking the right questions is key; the information the employment screening provider collects is dependent upon the specific searches ordered by the employer for the background check. Providers like HireRight tend to collect only the information required to complete a requested background check.

Hiring Help

For employers or hiring managers who are feeling overwhelmed by the interview, background check and hiring process, there are a number of firms that can help out and that specialize in employee screening. Nadell recommends checking out the book “96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire,” by Paul Falcone to help inform the interviewer. Both Thompson and Nadell recommend consulting a qualified human resources professional and/or legal counsel to find out what interview or screening questions are not acceptable or legally invalid—but note that questions about age or sexual orientation are not allowed.

“There's any number of companies that can help,” says Christiansen, adding that different screening firms offer different types of services. “For example, we utilize a company that does online psychological analysis testing as well.”

Nadell also recommends, which lists over 500 background screening professionals whose prices are based on services requested.

The costs of a background check typically range broadly—from $15 to $120 per individual, say the pros—depending on the type of background screening services requested. According to Christiansen, “Depending on the needs of the client, you can pay hundreds of dollars, and even over $1,000 or $1,500 for some background investigations, depending on the level of employee you're looking to hire.”

Even if you are working with a small hiring/training budget, just looking to hire a new porter, or want to cut corners in the process, both Thompson and Nadell repeat the mantra of bringing legal counsel into the picture if you are unclear about proper hiring, screening and training procedures.

Once the new doorman is hired, beyond opening the door and accepting packages there are a whole host of personal details of the residents that they might observe. From behavior suggesting a drug problem or suspicion of an abusive spouse—these employees have a window into the world of the residents living there. Because of this, Nadell says simply that associations and hiring managers need to “hire the right people and train them…good employees care about the company they work for and want to protect it.”

Rebecca Fons is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator. Associate Editor Hannah Fons contributed to this article.

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