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Nov 12, 2012

Last Friday morning, the NBC Today show ran an investigative piece critical of background screening companies. The story gave several examples of egregious mistakes made by some well-known background screening companies.

I knew that the story was coming, and I fully anticipated a one-sided hatchet job portraying background screening companies in the worst possible light. Reporter Jeff Rossen’s predictably sensational style did not disappoint.

The examples in the story were the worst — all chosen to show how background screening companies get it wrong.

The results of a flawed background check

Inaccuracies in reports happen, and they occur at the expense of hardworking, honest and innocent job seekers. Catherine Taylor, featured in the Today story, is the perfect victim — a seemingly kind, honest, and hardworking stay-at-home mom who missed out on a job opportunity with the Red Cross because of a sloppy error in an employment background check that mistakenly identified her as a repeat felony drug offender. The drug offender had the same name and DOB (date of birth), but the similarities ended there.

Rossen went on to give other examples of equally appalling instances where screening companies have reported inaccurate information resulting in lost job opportunities. Mismatched names, the wrong states of residence, or missed identifiers were all given as examples of inaccuracies. What happened to Taylor and the others is wrong. Period.

I understand that no process is perfect, and every background screening company makes the occasional mistake. Moreover, the background screening companies named in the story are run and managed by friends and colleagues who I know and respect.

So as much as it pains me to admit, I have to give Rossen credit. The story made some very good points. It was, for the most part, fair and accurate. When background companies mess up, people lose jobs. It really is that simple.

Better accuracy costs tome and money

As Rossen pointed out, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does provide a dispute process for candidates who find inaccuracies in reports, but by the time that process has been completed, it is often too late. Companies are not required to keep jobs open for the full 30 days that are allocated for dispute resolution. While our disputes are usually cleared up within a few days, even a few days can be too long for some employers to wait.

Rossen cited the FCRA’s requirement for “maximum possible accuracy.” Background screening companies are required to meet that standard, but the examples in the story showed that companies are not hitting the mark. When Rossen asked an attorney why screening companies don’t fix the problems, he responded that providing accurate information requires investment in people and processes that cut into profits.

Again, he’s right. It’s true. Delivering a higher level of accuracy costs money and takes additional time and people.

It is unfortunate that people will walk away from an early morning news show with such a poor impression of background screening companies, and the process in general. The story that wasn’t told was that many companies do spend the time and money to get it right. The NAPBS (National Association of Professional Background Screeners) spokesperson was misquoted on the statistic given for disputes and inaccuracies. Based on our own internal statistics and information shared by my colleagues at other companies, accuracy rates are much higher that portrayed in the story.

Our dispute rate for inaccuracies at EmployeeScreenIQ is .017 percent. That means that only one (1) out of every 6,000 county criminal record reports is disputed.

Background checks are a must for business

With that said, most of those disputes result in no change — only one (1) report for every 5,000 job applicants is amended because of an EmployeeScreenIQ error. I share these numbers not to say we’re better, but because it is true. It is important to put it out there to let people know that lots of companies get it right. And the easiest way to get it right is to make sure the report is accurate in the first place.

Our “No Shortcuts” philosophy boils down to this: before reporting criminal records, our Public Records department confirms that the information that we’ve found actually belongs to the applicant. We confirm that the record is legally reportable.

The same holds true for our methods for conducting employment and education verifications. Our research team reviews each response for depth of detail and to ensure there isn’t any misleading or inconclusive information. We’re all for streamlining the process and reducing turnaround time, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of a quality product or a job applicant’s future.

So what now? As I have said before, I firmly believe that if you are running or managing a business, doing a criminal background check is a must. It’s a sound and best practice and it is probably negligent not to do so. Even Jeff Rossen conceded that NBC routinely conducts background checks on employees, as they well should.

The final word: If any of my colleagues at other background screening companies and with NAPBS have statistics or information to share, I encourage you to post them here, and join in the conversation. I would like to hear from you, as would clients and employers who deserve to hear the other side of the story.

This was originally published on EmployeeScreen IQ.

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