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Background screeners have been growing exponentially


The U.S. professional background screening business has never been hotter. Eight out of 10 employers use it for full-time hires.

That expansion has occurred rapidly with improvements in the completeness of the screenings, the speed in which they are performed and their affordability.

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“The industry is relatively young,” said Melissa Sorenson, executive director of the North Carolina-based Association of Professional Background Screeners, or NAPBS. “It wasn’t very common even 20 years ago.”

Sorenson attributes a lot of the growth to people moving around more frequently today. “There’s always more movement, more seasonal employment,” she said.

The 15-year-old NAPBS’ membership grew by more than 110 members in 2018 and now boasts slightly more than 930 screening companies.

That means the trade group membership takes in half of all screening companies. IBISWorld, a Los Angeles-based international business and market research company, put the number of U.S. screening companies last year at 1,872.

The industry employed 19,260 people in the United States in 2018 and had revenues of $3 billion, IBISWorld says.

Last year’s sector growth grew to 1,872 companies, the business research firm notes.

“I think that we will continue to see very strong numbers,” Sorenson said. “Even in a tight labor market, background screening doesn’t go by the wayside.”

Technology and the digital revolution it produced have increased the efficiency of the work and made entry into the field easier. But, Sorenson noted, you won’t find a single source for someone’s background history.

“You might look at places where they have lived the last several years, hitting multiple jurisdictions,” she said.

Some screenings, Sorenson added, require a trip to a courthouse or records depository to  comb through files. That can be a frustrating quest for screeners whose livelihoods depend on getting the correct information, according to the NAPBS.

“An accurate background check is dependent on access to personal identifiers such as complete name and complete date of birth. However, the redaction of identifiers—such as dates of birth— by federal, state and local court systems can lead to delays in hiring,” the screeners’ association said in detailing findings of a 2018 survey of 2,137 human resource professionals.

Redactions are particularly common in the federal court data system known as PACER, which systematically excludes dates of birth. “This can lead to applicants losing out on a job while the search for identifiers to confirm or refute that a record matches the applicant is ongoing,” the NAPBS said.

Even the federal government has difficulty getting the information it needs to make hires. The result, said NAPBS, is a sustained backlog of Office of Personnel Management background checks. The Government Accountability Office recently labeled this backlog a “high risk,” the trade association said.

Added difficulty could come from the nation’s most populous state, California, whose legislature is considering bills to block access to a resident’s misdemeanor history as well as some felony convictions.

The NAPBS said its 2018 survey found that 84 percent of human resource managers insist on a criminal database check for all job applicants, while only 10 percent ask for checks on some candidates.

On the criminal check side, HR managers want county and state criminal background checks on 89 percent of applicants, the NAPBS said.

Social Security numbers are used in 83 percent of screenings, while more than half (53 percent) of screenings are fingerprint based. Screeners also check on the credit history and education credentials of 31 percent of job applicants, the survey found.

Drug testing, which often is the main screen done on applicants for rank-and-file jobs, is done on 45 percent of applicants. Another 69 percent of applicants are checked for placement on a sex-offender registry.

While background screening companies in the United States are extending their reach worldwide, the 2018 survey found that no international checks are done on 57 percent  of job candidates. Only 12 percent of HR managers ask for international checks, the survey found.

Steve Cupp, a Gulfport employment law attorney with Fisher Phllips, said a company will typically tailor a background check to the particular job. “An applicant for an hourly paid job at a retail store will not require the same background check as someone who is applying for a cash or safety sensitive position,” Cupp said.

Growth in employment background screening has been especially noticeable for  executive and management positions, cash handling and safety sensitive positions, medical positions, and where a current employee is considered for a promotion to a supervisory position, Cupp said.

On the other hand, the tight labor market has led some companies to end pre-employment drug testing, Cupp said, though he noted most companies still have post-accident drug testing for workers’ compensation insurance purposes.


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