August 15, 2019

Criminal Monitoring in a Tight Job Market: Employers Learn to Balance Scrutiny With Speed

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You’ve seen the headlines, the ones practically screaming about how low the unemployment rate is (holding steady around 3.6 percent) or how there aren’t enough active candidates to meet current hiring demands. By now, the situation is well-documented and, despite some underlying speculation, doesn’t seem to be going away.

Less visible behind these headlines are the hours upon hours recruiters and talent acquisition professionals spend looking for the next right-fit candidate under these conditions. As part of the already lengthy standard recruiting process, we’re also seeing a steady uptick in the use of background screening, drug testing, and criminal monitoring. In fact, these things have become nearly universal, with 96 percent of companies in the US conducting some form of background screening.

Hiring is hard enough amid the talent shortage — so why are so many employers taking the seemingly contradictory step of adding extra elements to their processes? It seems likely that increased background screening corresponds at least in part with rising workplace assault rates. In 2011, there were 11,690 nonfatal injuries and illnesses caused by workplace assaults in the US; in 2017, there were 18,400.

Whether this increase is apparent to candidates remains to be seen, but organizations across industries have taken note. That said, the tight labor market still exerts pressure on employers. This puts organizations in the difficult spot of balancing their need for increased scrutiny with greater tolerance for background discrepancies to ensure hires get made. Complicating matters are the specific needs of certain job categories that make it nearly impossible to offer leniency at any stage of employment.

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Making Room for Tolerance Without Putting Your Organization at Risk

The traditional model for background screening, preemployment checks do precisely what they say: search a potential employee’s past for application discrepancies that may preclude them from success in a given position. The most obvious example would be a driver with a poor record or a history of DUI convictions; another might be a retail worker convicted of shoplifting or theft. The possibility of such scenarios may account for a noted spike in orders for criminal records screening, such as felony including misdemeanor (up 14 percent), National Sex Offender Registry (up 46 percent), and national criminal files (up 38 percent). Overall, this research noted a 16 percent increase in criminal records searches at a global level between 2017 and 2018. That’s a significant jump, and it tells us that even though the talent market remains competitive, employers are keen to complete their due diligence before making an offer.

So where does tolerance fit into the equation? Research indicates that best-in-class companies are reviewing their procedures for handling returned criminal records on an annual basis. This likely stems from the need to prioritize turnaround time above all else in screening candidates, to the point that speed outranks risk and cost when it comes to employers’ priorities. Using what’s referred to as “decisional adjudication matrices,” employers can choose to include or exclude factors in their background screenings, such as certain criminal charges and educational or government ID inconsistencies. These matrices use lists of preset guidelines to analyze background check results and determine whether a candidate is eligible for hire. If the position needs to be filled quickly, employers may become more willing to overlook earlier discrepancies, but only if the applicant’s ability to perform the job is not affected by those discrepancies. Eighty-three percent of decisional cases ultimately moving to eligible, suggesting employers are offering candidates significant leeway.

More Organizations Are Monitoring Employees Beyond the Recruitment Life Cycle

Another tool gaining traction is continuous records monitoring. Rather than a one-and-done prehire approach, this type of screening is constant, continuing on even after a candidate has been hired. Employers are alerted whenever an employee or contractor engages in reportable criminal records activity. Employers often use this type of screening for positions that require an additional level of trust or certification, like the drivers mentioned above or in industries such as healthcare, education, and financial services.

People risks occur at random, and data we’ve gathered from our customers at First Advantage indicates as much as 1 percent of an employee population may be convicted of a crime while employed. For many organizations, that makes it essential to maintain a close watch on employees at all times. A continuous monitoring approach allows employers to consider criminal records histories on an individual basis, take appropriate action promptly, and limit risks to their brands, customers, and workforces.

In an era marked by incidents of workplace violence, a call to action to end sexual harassment, and rapidly evolving compliance regulations, it’s up to employers to determine how they handle criminal records monitoring. Either way, background screening is a critical step in understanding who your candidates are and what they can bring to your company.

Katharine Voyles Mobley is the chief marketing officer for First Advantage.

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Katharine Voyles Mobley is the chief marketing officer for First Advantage, a global background screening company with 26 locations and 4,000 employees worldwide. As a member of the executive team and Women's Leadership Council, Katharine is an essential leader tasked with developing marketing strategies that increase revenue and drive change throughout North America, APAC, India, and EMEA. Throughout her 20-year tenure as a marketer, Katharine has been dedicated to blazing a trail for the next generation of women in technology and often has been recognized as a respected woman in technology. This is her third year as a mentor at the Atlanta Tech Village, the fourth-largest startup incubator in the world. Additionally, she is a board member YWCA of Greater Atlanta and a featured contributor to Forbes.