Criminal Background Checks: 3 Ways Employers Can Go Wrong


In April of 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provided employers with updated guidance on the proper legal use of criminal background checks.  Background checks are continually targeted for increased scrutiny by regulatory bodies.  Have you ever wondered why?

Background checks are powerful tools of hiring knowledge.  They can efficiently guide hiring and retention because of the wealth of information readily available.  They are the most cost effective method of protecting your workforce and workspace.  Employers can get this information quickly and easily.

This power for good in the modern human resources field is the very reason that the practice of pre-employment screening has been under the legal microscope.  A tool this powerfully good can be just as powerfully bad.  This article will focus on three common mistakes that employers make in their pre-employment screening practices that can turn the whole process sour.  Each of these oversights can lead to catastrophe!

1.     Neglecting to Use “Best Available Means” – The quickest way to fail at screening applicants is to not screen applicants.  Many employers see the volumes of regulation and throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  Criminal, civil, and credit screens are the best available means to discover applicants who might harm the company or its clients.  Failing in this discovery opens a Pandora’s Box of negligent hiring, negligent retention, and the myriad of problems that flow from hiring an employee predisposed to violence, recklessness, and theft.  Conducting these screens is a necessity in a modern workplace, and represents an investment in a culture of professionalism and security for your people.  With the widespread use of these tools and their simplicity and cost-effectiveness, criminal background checks are the “best available means” to avoid negligent hiring.  Hire without screening at your own peril!

2.     DIY (Doing it Yourself) – Doing the right thing in the wrong way is still a mistake.  With the best of intentions, employers might decide to join the trend of do-it-yourselfers out there.  The problem is that pre-employment screening is not sodding your yard or replacing your kitchen’s backsplash.  The federal government and each State regulate the use of criminal, civil, and, credit history.  The National Labor Relations Board is heavily involved in examining employer use of employee historical data, especially from social media sources. There are so hundreds of sources of information: national databases, local courthouses, internet websites, offender registries, credit bureaus, and social media, to name a few.

Without a guide in this information jungle, the employer-explorer can quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the wet rim of a boiling pot of regulatory stew.  Those internet sources are the perfect example.  Going to the web might find yield information to inform your hire, but in the process you’ve viewed protected class information under Title VII that has nothing to do with an informed hire and can never be “un-seen”.  Get a professional and reputable background screening firm to set up your screens and guide your policy creation.  Ask for references!  It’s worth the investment to do it right.

3.     Failing the “Job Relation and Business Necessity” Test – Even with a good decision to conduct applicant screening with a third-party firm, there is a final potential for disaster.  Not all screening companies are created equal.  Some are completely automated, with little support or analysis.  Others are just one private investigator who lacks an understanding of industry standards.  Either may sell you “cookie cutter” screening products that are not tailored to specific job duties.  If you do not document the job-related business necessity that justifies the screening, your background check could be ineffective and illicit.

Now you know how to maximize the power of the criminal background check for your applicant pool!  Use a comprehensive program of screening, employ a trusted third-party, and ensure that the screening tools and potential disqualifiers match the job duties and business necessity of the position in question.  For a better idea of what this kind of analysis could look like, check out the resource box below for a link to National Screening Bureau’s website!


By night, Dan Oblinger is a mild-mannered Sergeant for a large metropolitan police force.  He is a trained and experienced police officer, crime intelligence analyst, mental health specialist, hostage negotiator, and drug influence recognition investigator.  By day, he is the Director of Training for National Screening Bureau, a private company devoted to matching employers to their perfect hiring pool through background checks, drug testing, and I9 compliance products.  He lives on a ranch with his wife, three adopted children, and 13 chickens.  He speaks with passion and humor about his experiences and expertise to audiences across the nation.  Check him out at

Criminal Background Checks: How to Confront the Criminal Mindset at Your Workplace


This post is part one of a three part series that will examine the role of background checks and reports in todays work environment.

If humans work for you, then there is a need for predictors of malice and violence. The pattern of past behavior is the best predictor of future human behavior. Criminal background checks that make you aware of behavior traits such as these, ought to be at the beginning of your hiring processes. They should also be incorporated during promotion and retention decisions. I am a ten year veteran policeman in a large metropolitan community and what I’ve learned is that human beings do have a capacity to do great things. The flipside is that they also have a capacity to do irreparable acts of evil. Just look to Sandy Hook Elementary for an example.

The root of the issue is simple. The capacity for employees at any establishment to harm that company through evil actions is a catalyst. In working with the National Screening Bureau and consulting with many companies to establish drug-free workplaces and background checking procedures, I’ve learned that many of our employers in the workforce do not understand the risk. Sometimes it is easier to ignore the hazard at the workplace, hiding under complacency of dumb luck. I’ll call this the Ostrich Syndrome, for obvious reason.  “It’s never happened here before” you might say. But this is ineffective leadership and poor logic at best. This can also be a de-motivator for instituting business best practices in screening hopefuls for the company. The Ostrich Syndrome has no place in a modern-day, safety-oriented business culture of superiority.

Crimes and illicit behavior is draped with a whole host of problems directly related to and impact performance.  Abuse of worker’s compensation, drug abuse, attendance, morale, misuse of company property, time theft, and corporate integrity all have a solid connection to crime.  An employee that is involved in criminal activity is more than likely harming the workplace in more than one of these other related areas.  Company brilliance begins with generating a minimum standard for the new employee in order to build a culture that will push employees to maximum development of production and talent.  Specialized ancillary searches of motor vehicle reports, criminal record inquiries and registered sex offender databases are noble place to begin your searching.

Given our current corporate environment being very debatable in nature, the competitive landscape of business, and our righteous desire for stability in the workplace, employers may want to contemplate background screening as a tool with wider use in managing its workforce. For the most part, companies do understand the key role criminal background screenings play in pre-employment background checks. Of course, provided the screening is consistent with business necessity and job-related, businesses should not place boundaries on themselves in searching for past patterns of poor behavior.

It stands to reason that targeted background checks will add value to constant efforts to manage risk. Running checks annually and rescreening, are excellent ways to do this and they are gaining more speed across all businesses.  Employers are even finding convictions after employment on some of their workers. They are finding this to be more helpful to manage risk throughout their company than even pre-hire convictions.  Law enforcement generally does not have cause to report crimes of employees to their employer. But as a police officer, it is amazing to arrest and charge many delinquents who already have a job. Most employees convicted or charged of crimes have zero motivation to report their crimes to their supervisor. When every workplace is full of victims and treasures, do you think an employee really doesn’t act on their criminal instincts when they are at the office?  Background checks are extremely valuable for employees, contractors, and even volunteers in schools and churches.  Some might not think so, but volunteers have the same likelihood for harming your organization and/or the people in your organization.

Have some important personnel decisions coming up? Cast some light on them by running background checks. Considering several employees for promotion? Do background checks on them!  It will most definitely shed light on the process.  You may have an employee that’s troubled and is not performing to standards?  Screen him!  In doing so you may uncover a cause for the modest performance and be able to address it properly within your company procedures, or you might find a debarring conviction that will allow you to dismiss the employee with just cause. Thus, protecting your company and its employees.  Many different reasons can surface, so I recommend businesses make sure their authorization for background checks is “evergreen.” Also ensuring applicants comprehend that the employer can run these checks anytime it is deemed appropriate.

To promote safe work environments, the most important thing companies can do is adopt the attitude that theft and violence are actual hazards in the workplace and something must be done about it.  When the cultural shift in the hearts of business owners takes place, consistently I have seen the safety of their association begin to advance for the better.

In part two of this three part series, we will discuss the basics of criminal convictions, the wide variety of accessible background checks that are available, and the correct and incorrect ways to search.


Dan Oblinger is the Training Director for the National Screening Bureau, a leading provider of pre-employment screening, drug-free workplace programs, and I9 compliance services.   He is a ten year veteran of a large metropolitan police department with assignments as a patrol officer, patrol supervisor, undercover detective, crime reduction specialist, drugged driving enforcement investigator, and hostage negotiator.  He has extensive training and experience in crime analysis, criminal identification and apprehension, drug influence, and corporate safety.