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HR pros in tune with pre-employment background checks

In many cases, whether or not you are hired for a job may depend on information revealed in a background check. More and more, background searches are used to screen applicants. Human resources professionals say these screenings are now a way of life.

They list a few of the reasons these checks are generally used.

• Negligent hiring lawsuits are on the rise. Employers no longer feel secure in relying on their instinct as a basis to hire.

• Current events that include child abuse and child abductions, terrorist acts and corporate executives, officers and directors involved in corporate scandals.

• False or inflated information is frequently in the news.

• Federal and state laws require that background checks be conducted for certain jobs. Those include jobs for anyone working with children, the elderly or disabled.

• The “information age” with the availability of computer databases containing millions of records of personal data.

The Singing River Hospital System in Pascagoula screens all new hires, regardless of position, according to Nebo Carter, director of human resources, who says that all positions are screened to the same depth. State law mandates that any healthcare worker in a hospital or nursing home must be screened.

“Thank goodness a small percentage of those screened have criminal records,” he said. “I feel comfortable that the screenings are intensive enough. The system is not perfect but it is a good one and it’s necessary. We make a job offer contingent on the screening and drug test.”

When in the process of approving a person for employment, the hospital system goes through a series of steps that include checking employment references, urine test for prescription and illegal drugs, a criminal background check and a check with the Federal Office of Inspector General to verify there has been no conviction of Medicare fraud.

Applicants must submit to finger printing. The prints are forwarded to the State Board of Health and then on to a screening agency under the auspices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These checks cost the hospital system $50 each.

“Sometimes records don’t get updated. If someone did something at a young age and went through a rigid program or process to clear their record, it might not be reflected,” Carter said. “If it wasn’t a felony, it might not restrict them from employment. But overall, it’s a good screening and gives us enough information. It catches people we would not know about otherwise.”

The law that requires all healthcare workers to be screened also gives the hospital legal immunity from challenges resulting from background searches. However, Carter says the hospital system, with 2,300 employees, has had no complaints from the searches.

“We give people a chance to tell us about their record before we conduct the screening,” he added. “From an HR perspective, the searches are good because they help us determine that people are who they say they are and we know they won’t be a threat to our patients and other employees. In that regard, I think they’re appropriate and necessary.”

For Trustmark Bank, background searches are an integral part of the employment process in today’s business climate, and are conducted for all new hires regardless of functional title or official title, according to Janice A. Brown, employee service manager and senior vice president of human resources.

“In an effort to hire the best possible candidate, background searches can become an important key to confirming character, general reputation, personal characteristics and work experience,” she said. “Background searches, along with pre-screening, interviewing, drug screens and assessment tests are all factors that create a total picture of the candidate.”

Brown says pre-employment background searches for the large banking system can be quite extensive, including credit reports, social security number certification, criminal records, public court records, driving records, educational records, verification of previous employment, personal and professional reference checks and licenses and certifications.

“This information is obtained from private and/or public record sources, correspondence with past or present coworkers, neighbors, friends, associates, current or former employers, educational institutions or other acquaintances,” she added.

This HR professional points out that background searches performed by a third-party employment reference checking agency are covered under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the FACT Act which is somewhat of an extension of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

“This act outlines key provisions that must be followed in order to be in compliance with this regulation,” Brown said.

Key provisions include:

1. Notification of the candidate in writing that a background report may be used for employment purposes.

2. Obtaining the candidate’s written authorization before processing the background search.

3. If information from the search is used to deny employment, the candidate must be notified before the action is taken with a pre-adverse action disclosure.

4. After taking the adverse action, the employer must notify the candidate with an Adverse Action Notice that includes the name, address and telephone number of the third-party reporting agency; a statement that the agency did not make the decision to take the adverse action; and the right of the candidate to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information the agency furnished.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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