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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and with me is my co-host and dear friend, Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is background screening for a better workplace. Susan, I’m a huge advocate of doing background screens. I guess you could say I learned my lesson, because I learned the hard way very early in my career. I once hired a guy who had been in a federal prison for selling drugs, and I almost hired and/or referred several candidates to clients for hire who lied about their degree on their resume. We could probably do a whole podcast on people misrepresenting themselves [laughs] on their resume. And we could probably even do another one on reformed criminals, because that’s… can be okay, too, right? I’m not suggesting that people who have items or criminal activity pop up on their resume should not be hireable. Right? So that’s a whole different topic.
I think it’s about disclosing it and being honest. Right?
Right. So I’m not suggesting that companies do not hire people with a criminal record. But yes, it’s about the misrepresentation. It’s a bad start to a new relationship, and if you can’t trust them on their resume, it could get much worse. Just thinking about some of my experiences with background screenings raises my blood pressure. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Oh, dear.
Two candidates in particular I spent a lot of time with, along with several other candidates, I highly recommended them. And by the way, a degree was not even particularly important for the position. They had great experiences, but did not have a degree, and their resume said they did. I was so disappointed in them and so angry at the time that we had wasted – my time, their time, other people’s time – in the process. So Susan, what about you? Have you had good or bad experiences with background screens?
Yeah, I’m like you. I truly believe in them. I have clients say “Does it really matter? I mean, in this day and age, does it really matter if we do them?” I think it absolutely does matter. When I worked for a large global corporate enterprise, we had a very sophisticated team that would do all of the background checking, and they outsourced pieces of it, but we had internal security review all of the information as it came back in and they had to give a green light before we could hire. I will tell you that sometimes, the process took longer than hiring managers wanted, because they’re like, “Come on,” you know, “I’ve been dying for this position to get filled.” It took you a long time to find the right candidate, and now you’re telling me they’re stuck in the background checking phase. And I always say this time is an investment to make sure we’ve done it right and that the person is truly who they say they are and they’ve done what they said they’ve done. And sometimes we find out they did not. Like you, sometimes it was a college degree. If the job required it or not, if someone told us they had it, that was the first test of, really, integrity. So even if the job didn’t require, like you, if they said they had accomplished something they had not, we had to take it very, very seriously. I recently have been working with a client and they are a quasi-government entity, and so they – every single person who comes to work for them has to go through a government background check. I had no clue. I’d always heard, you know, that’s a long process. But in the government, it is very long. And so they… they really have to build that in to their whole time cycle that they’re planning for filling a job, because they’re gonna first, you know, do a robust search, they’re gonna find their candidates, but the vetting of that person after they decided who they want is really elongated. So I think I’ve had it easy, really, I’ve… never having actually worked inside HR in a government agency. But for all of our listeners who do, we’d love to hear any of your stories on that, or anything that you found to make it as efficient as possible.
Right. I love it.
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Well, we invited a guest today to tell us more about the trends and the importance of running background checks or screenings. Brad Odil spent 32 plus years in the television broadcast business, holding various titles in sales, sales management, and station management. But now as president and COO of RSI, Brad wants to build upon that tremendous success the company has seen since its inception. The foundation of their success is to build a company focused on assisting clients in their effort to provide a safe working environment for their employees.
Brad, we are so glad you’re joining us today. What are the primary reasons why companies run background checks?
I’ll just kind of give you some numbers on this from the Professional Background Screeners Association. They did an interview of about 2,300 HR professionals around the country through HR.com in 2018, so I can be pretty specific on that. But 85% of the companies are doing background screening to protect their employees and their customers, so that’s… that’s number one on the list. Number two on the list would be 50% have done it for improvement of the quality of their hiring of the people that they have. 37% protect the company reputation, another 36% are mandated by laws and regulations, 36% were reduce theft and criminal activity, and then the last was to comply with customer contracts. So you have a lot of folks that may do some work for schools and the school system may require them to do something before they allow a contractor to come on site. So that’s – ironically, I just did this presentation last week, and that those are some very recent… very recent numbers.
Yeah, I actually wouldn’t have thought – I wouldn’t have come up with all of those, so I like it. Brad, I’ve had clients tell me over the years that they are, quote, “running background checks,” and then it turns out they’re just, like, running a state police report. So explain the differences, and why is that typically not sufficient, to run a state police report?
Well, there’s a lot in there, in the fact that most of the state police reports just are for the state that they’re in. So if you’re in Indiana, you’re pretty much just running whatever that Indiana database has. And I think what’s really misunderstood about our industry is that everybody thinks that we run a, quote, unquote, “criminal background check,” that there’s one big database out there that we’re checking. And that is so far from the truth. And the industry is really an aggregation of many databases. And so to give you an example, with Reference Services, our national criminal databases we check are over 2,200 different databases combined. We aggregate all that data from all the different states. And so the sex offender registries are an easy one to explain – there’s a different registry for every state, so there’s 50 databases. And so the same kind of holds true when you start getting into these state databases – you’re only looking at one state’s records as an example. And so if someone has lived in three different states, you’re gonna miss a lot of criminal activity, potentially, by just looking at the one state information.
Good to know. Are there new services in the background checking industry that our listeners should be aware of?
Yeah, I think the most recent – and there’s two that come to mind. Continuous monitoring has become a really big service and a big process. And so we have the ability to continually monitor on a daily, every 15 minute basis, we can check records and databases to see if there’s any changes to someone’s criminal activity. Biggest example I can use is, let’s say over the weekend someone gets a DUI and they’re a driver for a company. We literally get a flag on Monday morning that that record exists. Or maybe they’ve gotten a speeding ticket over 20 miles an hour over the limit. I mean, we literally see these… these changes to the records, and we can report that back to our customers almost in real time. So that’s an example. If someone were to get arrested for some other criminal activity over the weekend, and there might be a pending case, and if we can report that at the state level, then we would report on a continuous monitoring basis that that current employee, as an example, might have some activity that the employer wants to know about. The other one that comes to mind is social media search, which has been a big conversation. Social media has been around a while, and now a number of the people that are in the workforce are using social media, and so we can literally look at most recent social media activity for what we call “business related activity” to see if there’s something that exists there that an employer would want to know about. That’s highly debatable on how people use it, or should use it or not use it. And it really comes down to the company’s policies and procedures and belief systems and how they want to look at that information. But the one thing we’re trying to teach folks is that they shouldn’t be doing these things themselves, because there’s certain things that they can use in a pre-employment screening process. And then there’s other things that they shouldn’t use when it comes to looking at someone’s social media profile.
Yeah, my blood pressure went up just a little bit thinking, “Oh, man, is it TMI?”
There’s things we don’t want to know about our employees.
On the other hand, I think it is about the nature of the business and what your policy is. And also, you don’t want HR people or managers of people out there searching for this stuff. How nice that it comes through professional outside service that’s working with you and really understanding what is business critical information for you to have.
Yeah, and you know, when we talk about 85% of HR professionals are running background screens to protect employees and customers, I mean, you just really have to know who’s coming to work for you and what type of attitudes and reputations they have. And if in their social media profile, they’ve got a lot of things going on in their… in their private world that – or in their public persona, I guess – that you want to know about, and that could affect your business, I think that’s critical information to look at.
Yeah, I really like and I wasn’t aware of this continuous criminal monitoring service. And I think that’s especially important for, say, in your example, where you talked about drivers, right? Somebody could be driving for you for 10 years, and you did a background check on them 10 years ago. Right? It’s not necessarily valid. I always think that with drug testing, right? We have some clients that say, “Oh, we do drug testing,” but turns out, they only do it when they start and they don’t do it again. So if drug testing is important in your organization and your industry, you gotta keep doing it to make it really valid.
Yeah, I mean, just… maybe in this particular case, if you’re doing continuous monitoring and there was an arrest over the weekend for a drug possession, then you would certainly be flagged about it. So that’s something you can do that until you get to doing the annual drug review, or the random drug tests, or whatever may be in place. And these services are relatively inexpensive. I mean, they’re, you know, less than a couple of bucks a month per employee, you can have this stuff ongoing. So it’s… it’s not like it’s gonna really be a hindrance on the expense side. It’s more about, you know, who do we want to monitor? Who do we want to keep in that continuous monitoring program? And you can be selective about it. So it’s… it’s pretty easy to do. People just send us batch uploads, you know, we keep, you know, Excel files as an example. We upload them into our systems, and then we can keep up with their current employer… employee base.
You know, I also… a lot of times people will ask me – and Susan, I’m sure you’ve heard this too – like, What’s one of your favorite HR questions you’ve ever… you know, random questions you’ve gotten over the years? And one of my favorite questions is, my client called me one time on a Sunday morning and said, “What do we do if we just found out one of our employees was arrested for robbing a bank yesterday?” [Laughs]
I’m like, ohh… That was a long call. [Laughs]
So that could be good. So Brad, how has COVID-19 affected your business and background screenings? Any impact?
Oh, absolutely. We’ve learned a lot in the last year, year and a half. You know, the industry is relatively young. I would say the industry is right at 20 years old, and it really got kicked off with 9/11, which – this is the 20th anniversary, and so, you know, when I say relatively young, that’s not very old with regard to an industry and how long they’ve been doing things. And so one of the things that is a challenge in the industry is the court records themselves and how accessible they are to people like ourselves that are professional background screeners. And again, going back to my comment where most people think we go to one database and pull all this stuff – that’s just so far from true. About 40% of the records around the country, we have to physically walk into the courthouse and pull the records, because they’re not uploading the data to a database. And so you would think in 2021 this stuff’s readily accessible, we can get our hands on it fairly easily, but we really can’t. And probably the absolute worst state that we’ve had – I use that term worst… but Kentucky has not been very kind to the background screening industry, because we’re still walking into many courthouses. And Kentucky has a lot of small jurisdictions, and so there might be one clerk in a small community, and if that clerk got sick, or there was someone that office that shut down due to COVID, when they locked the doors, they locked all the criminal records.
And so if you’re an employer in the state of Kentucky and you’re expecting a 24 hour turnaround time on a set of records, and that courthouse is closed, there’s nothing we can do about it. And so, yes, the effect was these records were taking forever to get returned, because courthouses around the country were literally closed down. And what we’ve had to try to educate the court system on is, there’s a whole industry out there that’s… that’s dependent upon your information, and so you can close the court down to people coming in off the street, but you need to allow the professionals to come in and continue their work, and so those professionals would be the researchers of our industry, that we still need to go in there and pull those records and report off of them. So that’s been our major challenge.
Wow. Brad, if one of our listeners is searching for a background screening company or individual, what should they be looking for? What’s the criteria that you would recommend?
I think at the top of the list is, really, you’re looking at, What’s their customer service look like? What do their reporting standards look like? I mean, are they… are they really going out there and looking at the best data that they could possibly get their hands on? If I run across somebody that tells me they’ve done a background check and it cost $7, quite frankly, I know they’re not spending a lot of money and they’re not getting very good data, because the data is expensive to get your hands on, and so we have to pay a lot of money to aggregate as much data as possible. And the reality is, we’re all buying and purchasing and gathering data different ways, and so working with our vendors to get the best data that’s available is important. And as I said a minute ago, we’re doing 2,200 different databases, over a billion records. Well, another provider may be doing half of that. And so you really have to kind of vet out, you know, How thorough is your process? So that would be one thing. Compliance, certainly, is huge. You know, what are you doing to make sure that you’re reporting the correct information on our applicants to keep us out of harm’s way, as an employer? You know, are you making sure that we’re protected from all the things that we need to worry about? And so at Reference Services, we have some things that we do in house for compliance, so customer service data, compliance, turnaround time, all those kind of come… come to mind, because the turnaround time is making sure that people can hire in a timely manner. And so I would think those are at the top of the list.
Brad, you mentioned that if a company was paying $7 for a background check, they probably weren’t getting the data. I think you told me before, too, that if a company says they never have any issues or concerns on their background reports, they might not be getting good data, either.
Yeah. So at Reference Services, we get a report every month on how many reports that we actually conduct, and then what’s the quote, unquote, “hit rate,” or how many of those reports come back with a record. And I tell this story a lot – the most recent number for us is, like, 23%. So the thousands of criminal reports in the searches that we do here on a monthly basis, if almost a fourth of them are coming back with a record – and a record can be minor or major, but it’s still a record, something that someone should put a set of eyes on – so if I hear from a company… and I did with a healthcare company just this summer, they told me, “For three years, we’ve run 400 background checks, and we’ve never had a hit on any of them.” And I told the story about… Wow, you know, I was like, “My company, we average 23% of our records, and we’re doing many more than you are, so you really… we feel like you’re missing some things.” And the gentleman said to me, he said, “That’s exactly why I called you. I’m scared. I feel like I’m missing something, because I should at least have a record by now, right? 400 background reports and I’ve never seen a problem on any level.” So yeah, that… that exists, because their provider may not just be looking at as much stuff as we are in this example.
So Brad, is there anything else that we’ve missed or that you think’s important for our listeners to know?
Yeah, you know, you asked me some of the things to look for with looking at a background screening provider, and I would say the other one would be to look for companies that are accredited with the Professional Background Screening Association. I left that out by mistake. But accreditation basically means we’re doing things at the highest standards of the of the industry, and we’ve already gone through two accreditations here, we’re getting ready to go through another one. And there’s probably over 2,000 background screeners out there, but there’s only 7 or 8% of those are actually accredited at the high standard. And that… that’s a hard number to think about. I mean, that’s… that means that less than 200 screening providers are actually at the highest standards. That means there’s 1,800 of them out there that are just maybe small operations. Maybe it’s a single person or a couple of people working out of their homes, and they just bought some data, and they’re just running reports and reporting back, there’s not a lot of compliance. There is a lot of stuff to really look for when you’re really hiring a professional company to make sure that they’re doing things at the highest level.
And Brad, how can our listeners reach out to you or one of your team members if they have more questions or are looking to engage you for background screenings?
Yes, our website is referenceservices.com. You can… you can go there. You could hit our help link, that certainly flags most of us. You can give us a call at 812-474-9000. We’re… we take a lot of pride in the fact that we still answer the phone with a live voice on the other end. There’s not any phone trees here, so we’re kind of old school. We like to talk to you and vet things out. And so you can call us, you can go through our website, you can you can email myself at… it’s B-O-D-I-L at referenceservices.com. There’s a number of ways you can reach out to us, and we’re more than happy to talk to anybody.
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I feel like I learn something new every time I talk to you, so I’m sure our listeners learned a lot today, too.
Well, I appreciate it. This is an interesting industry, for sure. We’re happy to help anyone. But thanks for the time today. It’s always fun to talk to you guys.
Thank you, Brad.
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JoDee, we have a listener question today. The listener asked us, “How do you handle those who disagree with their termination?”
Yeah, I thought this was a great question, and it brought me back so many memories of… unfortunately, I’ve been involved in lots of terminations over the years. And I think initially what happens to people is they’re angry, they’re upset – I should say many times people are surprised, right? They’ve had no performance feedback, they’ve not had discussions, so it may truly come out of nowhere for them, regardless of the reason, if it’s, you know, downsizing, or if it’s performance related. But I also have been involved in several where I knew even I, as the HR director or… or HR person at some level, had either had discussions with them, I had read their performance evaluations, and it seemed clear to me that they had been notified, that they had had conversations about performance, and yet still, they will say in the termination meeting, “This came out of nowhere! I had no idea. Why didn’t someone have a conversation with me? Why didn’t you share this with me?” So I think the first reaction is fear, right? They’re fearful because they’re thinking about health insurance and salary and… and all those things. So I think sometimes you got to… you got to just help them get past that, and sometimes that might not come for a couple of weeks or a month or even until they’ve found their next position, right? When… when they feel better. But I also think, you know, just in general, to be a calming presence for them. If you’re offering outplacement, if you’re offering a severance package, if you’re offering extended pay or benefits, to get to those as quickly as possible to… to help them overcome some of those initial fears.
The only thing I would add is that often, it’s the person’s manager who’s giving them that news, and maybe HR is in the room, maybe HR isn’t, but I do think it’s really important for HR to have a touch point with that employee either way, so that if the person does disagree, you as a representative of the company listens. It’s possible there’s something you missed, you know, it’s possible that you’ve read the performance reviews, or you’ve done whatever, but there’s been mixed messages given to the individual that we don’t know about. And so it’s just important, I think, that we be a sounding board, we listen. Sometimes that may cause you take some action. Sometimes, and probably most of the time, it may not, because as you said, the person maybe wasn’t hearing the messages they were getting, or for whatever reason, there was no choice around…. It’s not performance related. It’s the organization is downsizing, and there’s no other alternative. But I just think it’s important that we as HR professionals want to have some kind of touch point with an employee who’s been discharged, even if it’s just to let them know about their benefits and whatnot, so that we’re there to hear if there’s something that the organization needs to know.
Absolutely. In our in the news section today, in a May 2021 article by John Egan in SHRM’s HR Magazine, he reported at least 2 million people in the US reported being victimized by workplace violence. Susan, I have to tell you, I was appalled. I mean, I know it’s out there. I know it’s an issue. But I was appalled at that number – 2 million people. However, about 1/4 of workplace violence incidents go unreported, so that means there’s a lot more than 2 million. One of the key reasons for this concern is that many workers continue to struggle with physical, mental, and emotional stress stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. So what can we do to prevent that? Well, Egan recommends four actions.
Number one, underscore your commitment to combating workplace violence. You need to have policies in place if you don’t already have them. Train your staff and workforce about these policies. Employers have ethical and legal obligations to provide a safe work environment.
Number two, watch out for those warning signs. Right? It might be a trigger event, a change in behavior, an inability to accept blame, or even some threats.
Number three, institute a phased in return to work. People are not used to being around a lot of other people all day every day, so think about how do we gradually get people in and get them comfortable.
And number four – we’ve talked about this on other podcasts – is to shore up your mental health resources. And not just for employees who might be struggling, but for HR professionals, as well, for the managers and frontline supervisors, so they can recognize early signs of distress in others.
So thanks for joining us today and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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