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Range of businesses now using more detailed investigations into job applicants

Background checks gaining importance

Job applicants might be hard pressed to find an employer not doing background checks these days. In today’s business climate, employees’ history of work, financial and law enforcement issues are becoming increasingly important for employers.

There’s probably no industry to whom these concerns are more sensitive than healthcare. Cathy Benvenutti, human resources director of Garden Park Hospital in Gulfport, has seen the importance of background checks grow in her nine years there.

“We used to do a reference check on job applicants but now we’re doing a level one background check for verification and fingerprinting on everyone,” she said, “and that definitely gives us the information we need.”

State law requires hospitals and nursing homes to fingerprint job applicants to uncover any criminal record, arrests and rap sheets. The State Board of Health has a link with the FBI and hospitals receive reports in 24 hours. In addition to that procedure, Benvenutti says most hospitals and nursing homes are conducting a second background check that includes seven steps on applicants for many positions. Garden Park uses a contractual service for this procedure, and reports are received in two days.

Those steps of the background check are:

• Social Security verification.

• Verification from previous employer.

• Criminal search.

• Clearance from the Office of the Inspector General on Medicare or Medicaid fraud.

• Violent sex offender and predator research.

• Government sanction list of parties excluded from federal programs.

• A check with the U.S. Treasury for any inappropriate international dealings.

“These people have access to patients, and we wouldn’t want someone under the care of a person who was guilty of assault,” she said. “We make sure we’re hiring individuals who are who they say they are.”

The human resources department at the 130-bed hospital averages 25 to 30 background checks each month. Benvenutti says false information given by an applicant, such as an incorrect date of birth in an attempt to conceal a criminal record, is caught with the Social Security verification. “We haven’t had much of that,” she said. “It would set off an alarm with the Social Security check, and then we won’t proceed.”

Protecting clients’ financial info

Certainly, background checks are important for financial institutions. At BancorpSouth, criminal background checks have recently been added to the consumer credit checks they have always run on job applicants.

“Banks are allowed to check applicants’ financial dealings, and we decided that everybody else is doing the criminal checks, so we thought we should too,” said W.O. Jones, vice president of human resources for the bank’s multi-state system. “As we grow larger and get into markets where the local staff does not know everybody, it’s become more important. We decided to go ahead with the trend.”

Jones says applicants must sign a release consenting to these background checks and that none have balked at doing so. The procedure is handled through the central human resources office in Tupelo. He sees it as a sign of the times as more and more banks become part of large systems.

“We think it can be of value. We want to make sure that information we have about customers is secure,” he said. “If an employee takes money, the auditors will find the discrepancy, but customer information is different. With identity theft and other problems, these background checks are becoming more important.”

At this time, fingerprinting is only done for certain positions with the bank. Jones says it may be required for all at some point, becoming the companion piece to criminal background checks. The bank guards against wrong date of birth information with Social Security verification that details the location and date the card was issued along with the person’s full name.

“We can even talk to an applicant’s neighbors if we feel the need,” he said, “and we still do some old timey calling up and checking references, too. Sometimes we learn more about what people don’t tell us than what they do tell us.”

Jones reiterated that protecting the financial information and identity of customers is most important with the bank and the reason background checks are conducted.

Scrutiny in gaming

In the highly regulated gaming industry, background checks are crucial, too. At Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg background checks are done for all employees with more extensive scrutiny required for some positions by the Mississippi Gaming Commission, according to Annie Jenkins, director of human resources.

She said non-gaming employees’ backgrounds are also checked for references, and employment and education history. All employees must have a valid identification and Social Security card.

“The Gaming Commission check is important because it increases the odds that our team members in key gaming positions are credible and trustworthy,” she said, “and do not have a history that would prohibit them from receiving a gaming license or being reissued one after the current one expires.”

Jenkins said these background checks are also important for all employees because it’s good to track their experience level, skill set and tenure with other companies. “That’s information that often is an accurate predictor of what they will do with our company,” she said.

Verify, verify, verify

Mississippi Power Company of Gulfport has been doing background checks since the 1980s, according to Kurt Brautigam, manager of external communications. All full-time, part-time and consulting job applicants are screened for work experience, education, driving history, credit check if it’s applicable for the job they will do and fingerprinting to reveal any problems with law enforcement.

“It’s very important to verify the information that job applicants give us to make sure the people we hire can work with the public,” he said. “We have high trust and expectations for them as a company serving the public.”

Brautigam said the 1,250-employee company is hiring competent individuals, and the background checks are a way to ensure that quality.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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