Guess Who’s Coming into Your Building

11/29/2010 | By Michael Fickes

Background checks for the people you and your contractors hire

Guess Who’s Coming into Your Building

Do you check the references and backgrounds of the people you hire to work in your office? Do you provide cleaning, maintenance, and other services for your tenants? Do you vet the people your service contractors send, the people that you in turn let into your tenants’ offices? Your tenants probably assume that you do.

Statistics suggest that you should strongly consider a background-screening program. One study found that 57% of the resumes you and your contractors look at contain fabrications, says Philip S. Deming, a principal in the firm of Philip S. Deming & Associates, a King of Prussia, PA security consulting firm that specializes in corporate investigations, employee risk issues, and human resources.

“Background checks are important for two reasons: to avoid negligent hiring and to ensure that applicants have the knowledge and skills necessary to doing the job you want done,” Deming continues. “Sometimes insurance companies require background checks for employees hired by companies they insure. At times the law mandates a background check.”

Red Flags and Where to Find Them
Think of background checks as insurance for you and for your tenants. Chances are, nothing bad will happen, but what if it does? Deming recalls a case in which a cleaning service, without conducting a background check, hired a 14-year-old female who had been convicted of arson. She accompanied a cleaning crew to a telephone company central switching office. When her supervisor reprimanded her, she started a fire in a closet that did several million dollars of damage to the building and $50 million in damage to the switching equipment.

Think of the liability that would probably attach to a building owner who allowed a cleaning crew with an underage arsonist into a tenant’s office. What about a security officer listed on the national sex offender registry with access to offices at night where people work late?

“Companies should screen private as well as public information,” says Edward P. De Lise, CPP, a senior vice president with W. T. Hill & Associates, LLC, a security and investigative consulting firm based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL “First there are employee background checks, which typically require a release from the individual to check information that isn’t public, such as references from prior employers, and to access private records such as school transcripts, credit reports, and military service.”

Second, and equally important, continues De Lise, comes a search of public records that require no release. These include criminal and civil court records and the sex offender registry.

Be Consistent with All Applicants
Careful though – there is a right way and a wrong way to check backgrounds. If you require a credit check for one applicant that you don’t like, for instance, but skip that step for someone you do like, you could expose yourself and the building’s owner to a potential Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint.

“You must establish a policy for what your background investigation will cover and then apply the policy consistently,” Deming says.

The policy should include what kind of information would disqualify an individual. Would a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) disqualify someone from working for you? Maybe, if it happened a few months ago. If it happened 10 years ago, maybe not.

You also have to be careful of state and local regulations regarding disqualifiers. “Maryland is aggressive, and I can bar you for a DUI conviction in Maryland,” Deming says. “But in Pennsylvania, I can’t bar you for a DUI, unless the job involves driving a motor vehicle.”

Let a Security Firm Take Charge
Deming recommends finding a company that specializes in background checks to vet your new hires and to require vendors with access to your tenants’ offices to check out their employees.

How can you be sure your vendors comply? You can ask for a letter certifying that they have done it. You can also ask to see the records, which can be time consuming and may require releases from the employees.

“In addition, you won’t know who your vendors are using to do the checks,” explains William T. Hill, president of W. T. Hill & Associates, a security consulting firm. “There are questionable screeners in the business. If they give you the wrong information or miss something, you can be in trouble.”

Hill suggests considering a program often used by large corporations. “These companies set up programs with reputable background check companies,” he says. They provide a set of criteria that vendor employees must fit, and they negotiate a good price because of the volume of business being referred.”

When a vendor comes on board, says Hill, the contract will require that the vendor screen its people to the corporation’s requirements using the selected background check firms. The vendors usually agree because it is a condition of doing business and they are also getting an important quality service for a good price.

New hires in particular should undergo screening. If the process clears them, they receive a number authorizing them to enter the corporate facility. The corporation receives no personal information and no privacy issues come into play. In fact, the corporate personnel won’t even know about people that are screened out.

Don’t guess whether or not a vendor coming onto your property could pose a threat to tenants and employees. Adopt clear screening policies to ensure unsavory characters don’t wreak havoc on your facility.

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