Background Checking: A Small Price to Pay

If you knew that spending an extra $50 to $100 per hire could potentially save an employee’s life, and save your company millions of dollars in liability, would you do it? In this article, I’ll tell you why you should. Now more than ever, it is critical to make sure that the people you are hiring don’t pose a liability risk to your company. Finding qualified candidates, particularly for those really hard-to-fill positions, is often so challenging that once we find an individual that fits our qualifications, we want to get them on board right away. But fancy degrees, patents, significant business accomplishments, and a pleasant demeanor mustn’t fool us. The most successful embezzlers, thieves, moles, and terrorists are most often the least likely suspects. To protect your company, employees, shareholders, and clients, it is imperative that you do a background check on every employee before you finalize the hiring contract. A basic background check, costing anywhere from $15 to $100 depending on the amount of information being verified, can potentially save a company millions of dollars, and even lives. As Elizabeth Van Ella, CEO of Van Ella and Associates, a 30-year-old background investigation firm based in Chicago, told me, “Seventy-five percent of all resumes have at least one major falsification. Most states now uphold the Negligent Hiring Doctrine. This doctrine legally recognizes that an employer is responsible for, and can be held accountable for, checking the background and references of any job applicant before placing that applicant in a position of high public contact.” “Workplace violence is becoming more and more prevalent in the United States,” she continued. “If you do not do your due diligence, it can cost you into the millions. Background checking programs would cost considerably less than this one time amount.” If you don’t think that the huge financial liability associated with a lack of background checking could happen in your company, then talk to these companies who once felt the same way:

  • BMW. A California jury awards $750,000 in an employee scuffling case. The plaintiff, an assistant sales manager at a California BMW dealership, was pushed during an argument by a fellow employee.
  • Rainbow International Carpet Dying and Cleaning Co. A jury awards the parents of murdered college students $1 million dollars in a negligent hiring case.

In these cases a background check prior to hiring may have signaled that there was an issue to explore in the background of the candidate. A simple check may have prevented both the tragedies, and the financial liability. The potential for workplace violence is just one issue companies should be considering when doing a background check. Equally as prevalent in the workplace are employees involved in fraud, misuse of company funds, clandestine selling of intellectual property and trade secrets, and other non-violent, but very costly, crimes. While avoiding a “bad hire” is what we most often associate with the result of background checking, equally as important is the ability to avoid liability from a hire “gone bad.” Let’s say for example a company conducts the appropriate background checks on all its employees. They only hire those that clear the check. Background checks are not infallible, as they can only use past behavior as a predictor or future behavior. This company has done the appropriate due diligence but they may still end up with a “bad apple.” One day an employee comes to work, loses emotional control, and attacks fellow employees with a letter opener or other sharp object. But because the company had completed all the appropriate background checks, they can demonstrate in a court of law that they had done the appropriate due diligence in hiring that employee, and therefore are not liable for the employee’s actions. If a background check had not been done, the company may have been held liable for negligent hiring. In this case it would not have mattered that a background check would have still resulted in the person being hired. What would have mattered was that the company was negligent in performing a background check. What is a proper background check? How do you go about doing one? What specifically does a background check accomplish? These are the questions most often asked by companies regarding background checking. Depending on the responsibilities associated with a position, there are various levels of background checks. It is recommended you at least do some background checking in the following areas:

  • Verification of identity. Is this person who they claim to be? Workplace fraud is often carried out by individuals that are not who they tell us they are.
  • County- and/or state-level criminal check. Is there any criminal history in person’s past, and what might this predict for the future?
  • Employment history. Unexplained gaps in employment history may indicate a need for further investigation of possible suspicious behavior.
  • Credit history. This is most important for persons who may be responsible for handling cash or transferring funds.
  • Motor vehicle record. Essential for anyone required to drive as part of their job description.

Other background areas to consider:

  • Federal/District Criminal Records. Federal offenses that will not be picked up by the county- or state-level criminal checks.
  • Education. Do they the degrees that they claim to have, and from the schools that they claim to have attended? Falsification of education records is potentially an indicator of other issues.
  • Professional references. Is there anything in their past work behavior that may be a “red flag” in hiring for the current position?
  • Debarment check (for the healthcare industry). What might have caused this situation? Will the hiring of this person pose a risk to patients or possibly hurt the organization’s ability to maintain all of its accreditation?
  • professional licenses/certification. Have they achieved everything that they say they have achieved?
  • Military records. Anything in their military history that requires further investigation?

Selecting a Background Checking Company Not all background-checking companies are alike. It is important to do a “background check” on the background checker. Here are a few questions to ask and a few things to consider before making a decision:

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  1. Where do they get their information? Do they go directly to the local agencies or are they purchasing CD-ROMs that could be outdated?
  2. Are the sources they are using legal? Will the report stand up in a court of law?
  3. Do they require an annual contract? While annual contracts can save you money, you should never have to sign a long-term agreement with any firm. Legitimate firms will allow you to test their services without any commitments. I recommend that you try several vendors before signing any contracts.
  4. How long have they been in business?
  5. How many times has the company changed names?
  6. Does the firm have a legitimate office, or is their physical address a P.O. box or a box at a Mailboxes, etc.?
  7. Will they reveal the amount spent on record retrieval?
  8. Will the background investigation stand up to an audit?
  9. Do they always verify the identity of the person for whom they are doing a background check? Beware of a company that has “fine print” stating that they are not responsible for the identity of the candidate.

Claims of fancy technology and speed of turnaround time, while important, are not nearly as important as the quality of information being provided. A few of the larger and more reputable background checking companies include:

This is just a small list of a few of the larger, more well-known firms. There are many other reputable firms as well; so if the firm you have chosen to use is not on this list, don’t fret, it does not mean that its services are not reputable. Advancements in Background Checking Technology Like many processes, technology, and particularly the Internet, make it easier than ever to request a background check. Many firms offer a password protected online service. An employer that has contracted with the firm can simply request a check online. The results are then presented either via email or through a secure server on the Internet. Applicant tracking vendors are now partnering with background checking firms to integrate the technology right into the tracking software. Prior to making an offer, the recruiter can execute the background check right from the software – keeping all aspects of the hiring process tracked together. Summary Nowadays, a company cannot afford not to do a background check. Given this reality, your company needs to do the following:

  • Due diligence on the background checking firms prior to signing any contracts
  • Determine which checks are appropriate for each position
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to use online technology and/or integrate the technology into current applicant tracking system

It’s a small price to pay to potentially save your company millions, and possibly even lives!

Karen Osofsky ( is a co-founder of, an e-recruiting consulting firm that provides outsourced recruiting solutions to rapidly growing companies and new ventures. The firm provides a broad range of recruiting consulting, sourcing, screening, and strategy development services to help companies manage the front-end recruiting process. Tiburon Group is a Certified AIRS Solutions Partner.