Do you remember that scene from My Cousin Vinny when Vinny talks about the prosecution’s case, bricks, and playing cards?
“The DA’s going to build a case. Building a case is like building a house. Each piece of evidence is just another building block. He wants to make a brick bunker of a building. He wants to use serious, solid looking bricks like – like these. Right?” Vinny knocks on the cinder blocks of the cell.
“Let me show you something.” He opens a deck of cards and takes out a single playing card.
“He’s going to show you the bricks. He’ll show you they got straight sides. He’ll show you how they got the right shape. He’ll show them to you in a very special way, so that they appear to have everything a brick should have. But there’s one thing he’s not gonna show you.” He turns the card to the side. “When you look at the bricks at the right angle, they’re as thin as this playing card. His whole case is an illusion, a magic trick. It has to be an illusion, ‘cause you’re innocent.”
When you get reports from a company that does background investigations or records checks, are you getting solid bricks or flimsy cards?
Some companies that advertise a “nationwide criminal record check” are selling playing cards. There is no such thing as a nationwide criminal record check available online that searches all courts and jurisdictions. The jurisdictions they do search are listed somewhere in the fine print. The cost is generally inexpensive, and you get what you pay for.
We sell bricks. When we do criminal history searches, we check states first (where available) and then individual counties or municipalities as needed using an address history. The process may be a little slower, but it is much more accurate.
We have a client (let’s call them Sub) who is obtaining criminal history information as part of their compliance to another company (let’s call them Prime). Prime states that Sub should “Provide a criminal record check with the applicant’s full legal name.” Sub contracted with RMA to provide that information.
When we search, we don’t limit our results to the full legal name. Here’s our standard process:
- We search using the first name and last name. When we see a matching date of birth, we look more closely.
- We search using first name, last name, and middle initial. When we see a matching date of birth, we look more closely.
- We also search for previous names (if we know them) such as maiden names or previous married names.
- When we find a potential match, we then start looking at other information such as address, full or partial SSN, or driver’s license number.
- If a record matches on three or more pieces of known information, we report it.
Sub, our client, submitted the information to Prime, but the results were rejected because the search did not use “the applicant’s full legal name.”
Here’s the problem: When you limit the search to a subject’s full legal name, you will probably miss matching records.
Let’s say your subject is Katherine Marie Petersen, and her maiden name is Saunders. Using the records from NC Administrative Office of the Courts as an example, records matching your subject could be listed as:
- Petersen, Katherine
- Petersen, Katherine, M
- Petersen, Katherine, Marie
- Petersen, Katherine, S
- Petersen, Katherine, Saunders
- Saunders, Katherine
- Saunders, Katherine, M
- Saunders, Katherine, Marie
In addition, there could be matching records based on misspellings or abbreviations, such as:
- Peterson for Petersen
- Sanders for Saunders
- Mary for Marie
- Kathy, Kath, or Kat for Katherine
The information contained in the record depends on how it was originally entered by the officer or the clerk. In general, the older the record, the more likely it is to be inaccurate or incomplete.
The whole point is to be as accurate as possible about the applicant’s criminal history. This requires widening our search possibilities, including searching maiden names and previous married names, not just the “full legal name.”
I was working on a background investigation for a client recently, and I was reminded of a valuable lesson. (By the way, names and identifying information have been edited in this story, but the circumstances and situations have not.) When we verify employment, normally companies only provide dates of employment and position held. Sometimes companies will tell you whether the applicant would be eligible for rehire, but some companies prohibit releasing this information.
The applicant is seeking a professional, white-collar position. On the face of it, he seems to be a “stand-up” guy. He speaks well and presents a good image. His résumé says all the right things. He listed his previous employer on his application and indicated that his previous employer could be contacted as a reference. He even listed his previous employer as an additional professional reference.
Would you hire him, or would you want to know more?
The applicant listed three former employers. The most recent employer was a small business, so when I called to get information, I was directed to Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is one of the owners of the business, and he was also the former direct supervisor of the applicant. I asked him to confirm dates of employment and job title, and the information matched what the applicant had provided.
When I asked if the applicant would be eligible for rehire, Mr. Smith said, “Not a chance in hell.”
When asked for a reason, Mr. Smith said, “Sucked. Lied – lied about his abilities.” When asked if he wanted to provide additional detail, Mr. Smith said, “I can’t without cursing and getting really angry.”
This is why we check references.
Over the last couple weeks we have had too many examples of workplace violence and the devastation and the long-term impact it has on the business and the community. As security consultants, we partner with clients to protect their assets, and two of the most critical assets that any company has are its people and its reputation/brand. With that said, there is no crystal ball or magic pill that will allow us to predict these events with any certainty, but there are steps that every company can take to protect itself and its employees from becoming front page news for all the wrong reasons.
As employers, we all know the realities of the economic recession that has gripped the US and global markets since 2008 with a resulting decline in GDP growth, record high unemployment, and the bursting of the housing market bubble. Since 2008 many businesses have prospered, but times have been tough. At the same time, the technological revolution has created opportunities and changes in the workplace at an exponential pace, just as the industrial revolution changed the world. Lastly we have been at war for ten years on multiple fronts. That has required the deployment of men and women in the military and a heavy reliance on our employees who serve in the National Guard.
How does this affect our current and future employees and the decisions they make in and out of the workplace? What are the risks to your workplace that an employee will reach a “tipping point” that will lead to violence? I believe that in every organization there will be some employees who are more impacted by these and other stressors in their daily lives. Since “suffering is almost always a consequence of trauma” (Facilitating Posttraumatic Growth: A Clinician’s Guide) and a person may have experienced major problems before the current crisis, we must be prepared for reactions ranging from raw to numb.
Part of the challenge of dealing with people in crisis is recognizing that they may have overwhelming physical and emotional reactions to their challenging circumstances. We are accustomed to people getting mad or crying when life throws them a curve ball. What we aren’t used to are some of the more severe reactions which can wreak havoc in a workplace.
In After the Shock: A Survivor’s Guide to Tough Times, Becky Sansbury lists many ways that crisis can manifest itself in people’s lives. Here are a few:
• Lack of focus or concentration
• Extremes of blaming others completely or “collapsing” under total guilt
• Headaches – mild to severe
• Ego sensitivity – feeling attacked, misunderstood; need to defend self
• Distrust of self and/or others
• Overarching need for sense of control, stability or normality
The point is that we are all influenced by our environment and that can be reflected in the workplace positively and negatively. Education and communication is critical component of life and business. For example if asked, most people consider workplace violence to be a disgruntled person with a gun. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed toward persons at work or on duty” (DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2002-101) Workplace violence acts are violent acts or threats of acts directed at employees by other employees, family members of employees, customers of the business or organization, and random outsiders. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 mandates that all employers have a general duty to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm (OSHA 3148-01R 2004). Whether violence comes from someone known or unknown, education and communication can make all the difference in your business and for your employees.
Security is the protection of one’s assets from intentional actions of people with the intent of inflicting harm or damage. Protection of critical assets requires an integrated program that includes the people, processes, and technology. In the case of workplace violence, the first step is a written zero-tolerance policy that is effectively communicated using the organization’s website, signage, orientation, and on-going training. Communication is the key to an effective workplace violence program. Supervisors have the most direct contact with employees, so they should receive additional awareness training that focuses on communication and recognizing the signs that an employee is at risk due to internal or external stresses. Employees need to have a confidential method for reporting concerns and should be encouraged to do so if they feel that an employee is dealing with stressors that could negatively affect their decision making or are talking about doing harm to people, property, and/or themselves. Supervisors and managers need to have the necessary tools to evaluate and address valid concerns.
The second line of defense from an incidence of workplace violence is a pre-employment background screening program. In other words, don’t hire employees who have a history of violent behavior. This requires a background screening process that goes beyond criminal records checks and looks at the candidate’s character and reputation. Many companies are reluctant to share much information but will often verify employment dates and sometimes will state whether the employee is eligible to be rehired. Employers should try to talk with former supervisors where possible and definitely with references provided by the candidate and those developed during the background inquiry. Remember, people will omit negative information before they lie. Applications should be required for all positions and should only be accepted when complexly filled out. Applications should require a signature from the applicant stating that the statements are complete and truthful. All information on the application should be independently verified.
It is important to remember that even if a company does everything right with respect to per-employment screening, there are times when good people make bad decisions. Life is complicated, both inside and outside the workplace. Statistics suggest that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Drugs, alcohol, and stress change the way that humans respond to their surroundings. Personal failures, professional failures, health concerns, money issues, and perceived expectations are all stressors – and the list goes on and on. If one in four women will be the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime, the opportunity for domestic violence to impact the workplace is a real threat. People who commit violent acts do so for a wide range of reasons. For some it may seen as the only way out or as an opportunity to become famous (or infamous). Some people seek a way to draw attention to a personal problem, to correct a perceived wrong, or to end personal pain. The challenge is to recognize the signs and respond with solutions that mitigate the risk and potential harm and disruption in the productive workplace.
As a security professional, when we look at a facility or a campus, we want to know how people get in, how they get out, and how they know who belongs and who doesn’t belong. This is important to the protection of all assets whether they are talent, physical or intellectual property, visitors/guests, processes/equipment, or brand. The more valuable the asset is to the business, the more layers of security it should have around it in the form of people, processes, and technology. In preventing workplace violence incidents, the critical areas that every business should evaluate are access control, communication, and the responses management expects employees to take prior to and during an event. Does the company have an emergency management and response plan? Have the plans been tested? Real life events are not the time to learn that the plan does not work well enough to protect life and property in the workplace. Have you built relationships with the local law enforcement and emergency responders that you will be depending on for in a workplace event?
Companies should organize a threat assessment team that includes supervisors and other company professionals (HR, General Counsel, Security, etc.). This provides the means and expertise to evaluate concerns and respond to them in a deliberate way instead of with a reactive “knee jerk” response that may be ineffective or ill advised. This team would be responsible for identifying people who may be at risk and determining what steps – if any – the company should take with respect to the threat. The response could include but not be limited to counseling, training, job change, schedule change, or referral to an employee assistance program (EAP).
Life’s challenges affect everyone differently, and none of us are immune. With adequate support and enough time, most employees who are going experiencing trauma and crisis will weather the storm. It is important to remember that as the world changes, people change. Their circumstances and pressure change but their ability to cope and respond may also change.
Statistically, we know that some businesses have a higher probability of workplace violence events. According to most sources, taxicabs drivers, law enforcement officers, gas station workers, and security guards are at the greatest risk of workplace homicide. The vast majority of workplace violence events will be violent non-fatal assaults. Nearly half of them will be directed at health care, social services, and related occupations. With an enforced zero-tolerance policy, effective communications and training, and appropriate support and controls in place, most businesses will never have to deal with a workplace violence event. The criticality or effect that a workplace violence event has on a company, employees, families, brand, and community is difficult to overstate. Most of us can name several incidents in recent history at a variety of workplaces. Protect your employees, business, and brand by putting in place a workplace violence program that is the right mix of people, processes and technology.
Based on experience with some of our clients, there seems to be an assumption that applicants for C-level positions are somehow immune from falsifying information and are above reproach. The assumption seems to be that since an applicant has worked at “Alpha Company”, there is no need for “Beta Company” to do a thorough background investigation. The faulty logic is that Alpha would not have hired him unless his background was clean, so Beta can rest assured.
Did anyone do a background investigation before hiring Mr. Thompson? Probably not. Mr. Thompson had previously worked at the executive or upper management level at Paypal, Inovant (a subsidiary of Visa), and Barclays Global Investors. Although the reasons for his departure also included a company in transition and possible health reasons, the accusations of a falsified resume is what made headlines.
Trust, but verify. For the cost of one education verification search (about $10 to $30), Yahoo now needs a new CEO and four other executives who approved his hiring.
Yahoo chief executive Scott Thompson steps down
The chief executive of tech firm Yahoo has stepped down amid accusations he included a fake computer science degree on his CV.
Scott Thompson was replaced by Yahoo’s global media head Ross Levinsohn.
Yahoo shares rose 1.7% on Monday morning as news of the changes hit the trading floor.
The firm is also reportedly close to agreeing a truce with activist shareholder Daniel Loeb, who discovered Mr Thompson’s mistake.
Mr Loeb, a hedge fund manager who lobbied for Mr Thompson’s dismissal, is set to be appointed a company director.
He will also be able to appoint two other new directors, while Yahoo has named Fred Amoroso as the new chairman of its board.
On Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Thompson, 54, told Yahoo’s board late last week he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Mr Thompson was diagnosed in recent days and is due to begin treatment, the newspaper said, adding that discovery of the illness had influenced Mr Thompson’s decision to resign.
No confirmation of the report was available.
Yahoo has already acknowledged that Mr Thompson, who took up his post in January, does not have a computer science degree.
When the news emerged Yahoo initially defended its chief executive, calling the discrepancy on his resume an “inadvertent error”. But it then came under mounting pressure from shareholders, employees and corporate governance experts to investigate the matter.
Mr Thompson’s exit comes amid broader reorganisation within the troubled internet giant, which has seen four full-time chief executives over the last five years.
The chairman of the board, Roy Bostock, and four other directors are leaving the company immediately. All of them had approved the hiring of Mr Thompson.
In addition to the three seats allocated to Mr Loeb and his board appointees, Michael Wolf, a former executive at MTV Networks, and Harry Wilson, a restructuring expert, are to join the board.
Mr Levinsohn, who takes over as interim head of Yahoo, acknowledged the disruption in an internal letter to employees.
“This may seem like a great deal of news to digest, but as you are all keenly aware, Yahoo is a dynamic, global company in a dynamic, global industry, so change – sometimes unexpected and sometimes at lightning speed – is something we will continue to live with and something we should embrace,” he wrote.
Mr Levinsohn is expected to address Yahoo employees at a meeting on Monday afternoon.
In April the company announced plans to make 2,000 employees redundant, a cutback of about 14% of staff, in an effort to save $375m (£233m) a year.
Mr Thompson also had plans to shut down or sell off about 50 of Yahoo’s products and services.
Before joining Yahoo Mr Thompson served as president of online payments firm PayPal from 2008.
He took over as chief executive from Tim Morse, who had held the Yahoo role on an interim basis after Carol Bartz was sacked in September 2011.
Besides its search engine, Yahoo’s key products include Yahoo News, photo-sharing site Flickr and a webmail platform.
But the company has struggled to match the advertising revenue generated by rivals Google and Facebook.
Yahoo’s stock has languished since it passed up a $44bn takeover bid from Microsoft in 2008.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The time the applicant spent in Tennessee.
An employment application or resume from an applicant is a good place to start, but it should not be used as the sole source of information about the applicant’s previous locations. Relying solely on the information provided by the applicant can miss vital information about their suitability for employment.
Part of the background investigation should include a Social Security number verification and address history search. This search provides the background investigator with “clues” about other information, including possible criminal records, civil records, Federal court information, and previous or alternate names.
The sad truth is that applicants can lie or omit unflattering information. Just because they look trustworthy doesn’t mean that they are. Some employers mistakenly believe that someone is honest because they are “part of the community” or “they have lived here their whole life.” This is a dangerous and often painful trap.
Background screening is an essential tool in today’s business. Choosing the best candidate for the job requires due diligence on the part of management. An effective screening policy protects the business, its assets, and ultimately increases a positive return on the investment.
We recommend a policy that is flexible but non-discriminatory because it aligns the scope with the position. The greater the fiduciary responsibility, the more in depth the scope of the screening should be. A professional position should usually require a deeper level of verification and investigation than an entry level position.
One area that is a gap for many companies is screening at the executive level. Companies often assume that the person could not have reached C-level based on false or inaccurate information. This is a false assumption. This not only poses a serious security gap for the organization but it also often leads to a public relations nightmare.
We advise our clients that an effective background screening policy is an insurance policy that provides a measurable return on investment in better hires, less turn over, protected assets, and a safer, happier workforce. What is your background screening policy?
Fine Tune Your Criminal Background Checks
By Hughes Pittman & Gupton, LLP
Does your company use criminal background checks as a way of weeding out job applicants? Many businesses routinely perform criminal background checks on some or all of the individuals applying for jobs. In fact, many companies are required by law to conduct background checks for certain jobs.
However, be aware that the existence of a prior arrest doesn’t give your firm carte blanche to turn down an applicant without hesitation. The recent settlement of a claim filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) against Pepsi Beverages illustrates some of the potential risks involved with background checks.
In the case, the soft-drink conglomerate agreed to pay a $3.13 million settlement based on racial discrimination charges related to its hiring practices.
The EEOC maintains that using arrest and conviction records to deny employment is illegal if it isn’t relevant to the position being offered. A blanket policy against such individuals can limit job opportunities for minorities who have higher arrest and conviction rates than Caucasians.
In its investigation of Pepsi Beverages, formerly known as the Pepsi Bottling Group, the EEOC reported that more than 300 African-American individuals were adversely affected when the company applied across-the-board criminal background checks.
“Under Pepsi’s former policy, job applicants who had been arrested pending prosecution were not hired for a permanent job even if they had never been convicted of any offense,” according to the EEOC.
Use of this policy, the EEOC argued, disproportionately excluded African-American applicants from permanent employment. It also stated in a press release that the policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“When employers contemplate instituting a background check policy, the EEOC recommends that they take into consideration the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job sought in order to be sure that the exclusion is important for the particular position. Such exclusions can create an adverse impact based on race in violation of Title VII,” said Julie Schmid, Acting Director of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office, in a prepared statement.
“We hope that employers with unnecessarily broad criminal background check policies take note of this agreement and reassess their policies to ensure compliance with Title VII,” Schmid added.
Since the investigation was initiated in 2006, Pepsi has adopted a new criminal background check policy and now plans to offer available jobs to those who were harmed by the prior practice, as long as they are still interested in positions at the company and are qualified for the openings. The money from the EEOC settlement will be divided equally among the job applicants who were denied employment while the prior policy was in effect.
According to a Pepsi spokesperson, the new policy takes a more “individualized approach” in considering an applicant’s criminal history relative to the job being sought in an effort to “…create a workplace that is as diverse and inclusive as possible.” The company has also agreed to provide the EEOC with regular reports on its hiring practices and to provide nondiscrimination training to its hiring personnel and managers.
Employers Walk a Fine Line
Employees with criminal backgrounds are not a protected class under federal law. However, employees may use Title VII to demonstrate that discrimination against criminals in hiring disparately impacts a certain protected class.
In some cases, employers are required by law to conduct criminal background checks for certain jobs. For example, Under the U.S. Patriot Act, truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses must undergo criminal background investigations in order to be eligible for a hazardous materials endorsement.
Even if background checks are not required, many employers routinely perform them because they are concerned about violent behavior, theft and other potential threats. If an employee commits a violent act and the employer did not conduct a background check, the employer could be facing a lawsuit and be liable for substantial damages under a “negligent hiring” claim.
Despite all the challenges and responsibilities, an employer’s policy on criminal background checks must be fine-tuned to withstand potential challenges from the EEOC. Work hand-in-hand with your attorney and HR advisers to establish a policy that meets your organization’s needs while complying with all applicable laws.
AP IMPACT: When your criminal past isn’t yours
Out of work two years, her unemployment benefits exhausted, in danger of losing her apartment, Casey applied for a job in the pharmacy of a Boston drugstore. She was offered $11 an hour. All she had to do was pass a background check.
It turned up a 14-count criminal indictment. Kathleen Casey had been charged with larceny in a scam against an elderly man and woman that involved forged checks and fake credit cards.
There was one technicality: The company that ran the background check, First Advantage, had the wrong woman. The rap sheet belonged to Kathleen A. Casey, who lived in another town nearby and was 18 years younger.
Kathleen Ann Casey, would-be pharmacy technician, was clean. Read more…
This is why you need real humans looking at data, not just an automated process.
At RMA, we reduce errors by going straight to the source whenever possible, getting the information directly from courts in the case of criminal records. A competent background investigation company will match records using more than one item of identifying information, such as date of birth, address, SSN, race/ethnicity, gender, etc. A thorough background will compare different types of information for a single individual to detect inaccuracies – cross-checking and comparing the criminal history, address history, driving history, credit report, and employment or education history. Finally, the background investigation company or the employer should call references – both personal and professional – to find out about the character of the individual.
We make ourselves knowledgeable about the regulations allowed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), knowing what we can and cannot pass along in the way of criminal records. We examine the records obtained and filter the information using the demographic information provided by each client. If there is a discrepancy such as in a day or month in the date of birth field, we look for other qualifiers to show that the record pertains to the applicant. If there is a situation where a record is both important to the client and questionable as to validity, we can contact the issuing authority. Almost all adult criminal convictions are public record, and usually there is sufficient information to verify whether the person named is the applicant. In some cases we contact the client and suggest they contact the applicant for clarification or verification. Of course, information disputed by an applicant would trigger further scrutiny. It is possible for a law enforcement agency to get a record wrong or electronically submit the information incorrectly. If the information turns out to be erroneous we can only notify the originating source because the records are not ours.
In a nutshell, what we do is query the applicable sources, obtain the information, verify that the information matches applicant identifiers, and pass along only the parts in the record that are authorized under FCRA.
There is a big difference between a background investigation and a records check.
Bill Booth presented Where Do I “Invest” in Security? Negligent Security and Premises Liability. The Premise Liability Seminar was produced in partnership with TriSure and was held at the Cardinal Club in Downtown Raleigh. Topics included securing and protecting assets, potential liabilities and foreseeable incidents, avoiding and preparing for litigation, and how to avoid punitive damages.
TriSure was founded in 1999, when two competing insurance firms realized they shared the same philosophy – providing the highest level of client service with honesty and financial integrity. The professionals at TriSure make up one of the Triangle’s largest independently owned insurance brokerage and consulting firms. TriSure is a diverse group of individuals focused on helping the area’s leading businesses manage their property and casualty insurance risks and provide benefits to their employees.