Q&A: Vera Gondard: “Screening reduces the legal risk of hiring and retention”

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 20 Apr 2016

First Advantage's director of account management in the UAE explains why conducting background checks on potential employees is crucial

Vera GondardHuman capital is usually an organisation’s greatest asset, so background screening is useful to make sure you’re getting an employee with the qualifications and experience listed on their CV. If an individual you’ve hired isn’t as experienced as you were led to believe and is found guilty of negligence that puts others at risk, the employer could be held liable. First Advantage's Vera Gondard explains how background checks work.

What are the main reasons why organisations should consider screening candidates?
There are various reasons, but it mostly comes down to optimising workforce performance or reducing the legal risk associated with staffing decisions. From an operational perspective, more fully understanding a candidate’s history can help identify the 'best fit' person based on the position and its list of qualifications.
 
Screening also helps reduce the legal risk related to negligent hiring and retention. It’s not uncommon to see patterns of malfeasance within workers’ history, so the ability to understand, for example, that an employee applying for an accounting job has a history of embezzlement is invaluable intelligence. Under the premise of negligent hiring, employers may be held liable if they do not use reasonable care when vetting talent and if one of those individuals later commits an act that jeopardises the welfare of others. Several worldwide industries – including finance, healthcare, transportation and multi-family housing – have specific guidelines and regulations requiring that certain kinds of background checks be performed.
 
Are discrepancies often found between candidates’ claimed and actual histories?
Globally, almost a third of all verifications First Advantage conducts uncover some sort of discrepancy – whether that’s related to the accuracy of their education, employment or something else. Of this third, 18.6 per cent are found to be minor discrepancies and 8.7 per cent are considered to be major, or indicative of a significant cause for concern.
 
Because there’s a lot of competition for jobs in many areas of the Middle East – but also a general lack of information about the screening process in this region – candidates often exaggerate their qualifications or experience to secure a job. That said, the rates in the European and Middle Eastern region are, generally speaking, on a slight decline for discrepancy. The 32.4 per cent discrepancy rate in Q2 2014 was the lowest it has been since we started to collect this data.
 
What is wrong with leaving background checks to the HR department?
The information that screening organisations supply is also publicly available, so theoretically it’s possible for HR professionals to execute background screens by themselves. However, most organisations outsource the process to an experienced service provider with the scale of personnel and tools needed to expedite the process.
 
How deep are the checks legally allowed to go?
Each jurisdiction has its own set of rules or laws that govern the use of background checks. Such rules may define the scope of time that may be included in a search, or restrict employers from enquiring about criminal history of an applicant in the written employment application. Other rules allow organisations to obtain personally identifiable information, but govern its disclosure. Due to the many, inherent complexities, employers should consult with region-specific legal counsel for advice on the appropriate actions depending on unique circumstances.
 
How do you deal with data privacy laws and social media security settings?
First Advantage is a consumer reporting agency and is subsequently held to higher standards, so we don't factor social media information into our screening processes. We use information from FCRA-certified (Fair Credit Reporting Act) resources. Our employees handle court record checks by going straight to the source, either on-site at the courthouse or through appropriate technology. For employment and education verifications, we determine if the information is available in an approved database or will similarly go directly to the source. We use specialised data sources; information that cannot usually be obtained from a cursory search on a website or social media.