Looking Back at 2010: Top Background Screening Trends

The end of the year holidays bring a lot of things along with them — parities, presents, family get-togethers, maybe even a Christmas bonus if you’re lucky — but they also bring a great deal of looking back at all the things that happened in the past year.

You know what I’m talking about: end of the year lists.

Everyone and everything seems to have one, and the same is true in the HR, talent management, and workforce space as well. From now until New Year’s, you’ll see a lot of lists about a lot of things that happened as we worked our way through 2010 (and maybe even a list of the top stories here on TLNT). It’s a good way to review the year, look back at what happened, and perhaps even peer ahead to what might await in 2011.

So, here is the first year-end list that dropped into my mailbox this holiday season, and it is the “Top Background Screening Trends” of the year, from EmployeeScreenIQ.

Not a terribly sexy subject, you say? Well maybe to some, but I found the list to be an interesting look at where things are going in the HR and talent management space, and sort of a sign of the times for managing a workforce at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century. Take a look and see what you think.

The top nine trends of the year include:

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  1. EEOC takes aggressive action toward employment background checks. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has increased their scrutiny of hiring practices, exposing employers to a greater risk of discrimination lawsuits. The EEOC is especially targeting “bright line” hiring decisions that automatically exclude candidates with criminal records, arrest records that don’t result in a conviction, and/or poor credit. When adverse information surfaces, employers need to consider the severity of the offense, how long ago it occurred, if the person is a repeat offender and most importantly how closely it relates to the job being filled.
  2. Legislation and litigation deterring the practice of checking credit. The states of Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Illinois have passed legislation aimed at curbing the use of employment credit reports, with nearly 20 other states proposing legislation. There is also an effort at the federal level (HR #3149) to do the same. A number of existing laws already provide protection for job candidates, but credit checks are becoming a hot button issue and the controversy only looks to intensify.
  3. “Ban The Box” laws take effect. Massachusetts, New Mexico, Connecticut, and other states have passed “ban the box” laws that prohibit employers from asking for an applicant’s criminal background on the initial job application. Other effects of these laws involve changes to how long felony convictions will display on a person’s record, as well as the need for employers to have a written criminal offender record policy.
  4. Industry accreditation sets the bar for screening providers. Earlier this year the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) announced a new Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). Only 1 (one) percent of employment screening companies have earned this distinction, including EmployeeScreenIQ. Looking ahead, accreditation will serve as an important seal of approval that all companies should look for when choosing a background screening provider.
  5. Reigning in global screening. It’s a pervasive trend: companies establish offshore operations and also transport workers to North America from other countries. As this practice matures, employers must take a strict approach to developing best practices, understanding the individual laws and guidelines of each country and securing universal compliance.
  6. Screening contractors goes mainstream. Once small in number, contract employees have gained a significant presence among companies nationwide — and HR executives who take a hands-off managing approach are setting their company up for big risks. Over two-thirds of companies perform [background checks] on temporary workers, according to a 2010 survey by EmployeeScreenIQ. However, employers need to apply the same screening processes to temporary workers as they do for permanent employees.
  7. Emerging popularity of self-screening candidate tools. Up to 85 percent of job candidates are subjected to employer background checks, but many have no idea what might turn up. That’s changing with the widespread use of self-screening tools. Now candidates can perform an online criminal background check on themselves, avoiding unpleasant surprises and safeguarding against identity theft.
  8. Congress unveils the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. In July 2011, the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection will begin to carry out “consumer financial protection functions” previously done by Federal banking agencies and other authorities. The agency’s powers will extend far beyond mortgages and real estate, including credit reporting agencies in its oversight. It is still unclear how this will play out, but will likely affect any employment background screener that provides credit reports and any employer that uses them and subjects both parties to a dual regulator: the new Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.
  9. Hiring controversies due to social networking. Social networking has exploded in popularity and employers now use Twitter and Facebook to influence hiring decisions. However, many sites have no verification process and several can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet—putting companies as risk for violating FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) regulations and EEOC guidelines.

What does all this mean? Here’s what Nick Fishman, chief marketing office of EmployeeScreenIQ, had to say.

“As the background screening world becomes ever more complex in 2011, HR professionals need to be vigilant in reviewing all the elements of a background check,” he said. “Every organization is unique in their hiring needs and practices. Every individual that you consider for employment should be judged on their own merit, strengths and weaknesses, by someone in the hiring organization that can consider the complete individual.”

Yes, judging people on their own merit, strengths, and weaknesses is a good thing anytime, holiday season or no. Some sharp words of wisdom to keep in mind as we head into 2011.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.