The Role of Criminal Background Checks in Creating a Safer Workplace

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Criminal background checks are necessary for maintaining workplace safety and reducing the possibility of theft, fraud, or violence. However, constructing legally defensible screening criteria can be challenging.

A background check will typically search national, state, and county records to reveal a candidate's criminal history. The report can also show pending, acquitted, or dismissed charges.

Preventing Workplace Violence

Violence in the workplace is a growing concern for businesses. It can take many forms, from robbery by employees or customers to domestic incidents that spill over into the office. This is a serious threat to employee safety, as well as business operations and profitability. The best way to prevent this type of violence is through pre-employment screening and a clear anti-violence policy. This policy should be separate from other company policies on professional behavior or equipment misuse. It should clearly state what types of conduct are prohibited, the procedure for reporting violations, and how employers will address those who violate the policy.

A criminal background check such as the Sterling Check searches federal, state, and county court records, watchlists, sex offender registries, and international criminal records to find information about an applicant's past. The search results can reveal convictions, arrests, detention without charge, incarcerations, and case dispositions like pardons and dismissals. A reputable CRA can provide all this information quickly and accurately so employers can make an informed hiring decision. However, despite the role of background checks in preventing workplace violence, they cannot be used to discriminate against people based on protected characteristics. 

Background Checks

Criminal background checks help organizations reduce risk, protect patrons and employees, and prevent on-the-job incidents. However, organizations must be careful when considering background check criteria to avoid negligent hiring claims and comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.

The most common mistake is using a blanket policy that excludes anyone with a criminal record. Instead, organizations should consider the severity of the crime and how relevant it is to the position they're hiring for.

Employers should also be aware that, unlike credit checks, which are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, criminal history records are subject to laws governing how long they can be reported and how they can be used in hiring decisions. For example, some states limit the lookback period for felonies to seven years, while others only allow the reporting of misdemeanors within certain periods, such as three or five years.

To ensure compliance, employers should use an FCRA-compliant CRA that specializes in background checks and works closely with local courts. This helps them save time and money and ensures the accuracy of data. Additionally, an experienced CRA can help with state and local laws, such as ban-the-box and fair hiring regulations that govern how much information may be included in a criminal record search. They can also assist with court-related searches in counties where records are not yet digitized and help employers follow EEOC guidance on when arrests, charges, and convictions may be considered in hiring decisions.

Preventing Fraud

A single employee's unethical and illegal activities can significantly impact a business. A criminal background check can help prevent this by identifying potential fraudsters. For example, someone with a history of forgery or embezzlement is unlikely to be trustworthy in positions where they would have access to large sums of money or sensitive personal data. This can cause financial turmoil for the company and damage its reputation.

Besides looking at criminal records, a background check can also glean information from civil courts, including disputes over contracts and property damage. These cases don't usually lead to criminal charges or convictions, but the information they contain could be relevant in hiring decisions. As a result, some pre-employment screening protocols incorporate standalone searches of county or federal court records. Other types of checks that may be included in a background check include sex offender registration and drug tests. A background check typically reveals misdemeanor convictions and any pending cases a candidate might have. The severity of the crime, along with how relevant it is to the job in question, will determine whether a company decides to make an offer. 

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Criminal background checks help companies keep their workplaces safe by providing them with a full picture of a candidate's criminal history. For example, a person arrested for fraud and embezzlement may be less likely to join an organization that handles sensitive financial data or cash. A criminal background check should include pending charges, arrests, and convictions. It should also include a summary of the case and the penalty imposed, if any. While these details shouldn't be weighed as heavily as convictions, they can still influence hiring decisions.

In many cases, a felony or a serious misdemeanor conviction for violent crimes can cause an employer to refuse to hire someone for a position, especially for positions involving interacting with the public or handling money. One of the biggest risks for businesses is sexual harassment. When employees harass coworkers, they can damage the company's reputation by creating an uncomfortable working environment and making customers and clients wary of doing business with it. Harassment can also lead to expensive legal and public relations costs. That's why employers need to invest in training and create a system that allows employees to report any incidents of harassment. Training sessions should be held during onboarding and at least once a year to reinforce the company's anti-harassment policies.

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