July 20, 2018

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Learn About Background Check Limitations

Even if your company requires a thorough background check, including criminal records, you're still taking a gargantuan risk. Let me tell you about a perfect hire-gone-sour situation we recently found ourselves in.

A client of ours recently extended an offer of employment, which was accepted, and we established a start date for a promising candidate. Unfortunately, we found out after the fact that the candidate was listed on the national sex offender's registry. Here's the real shocker, the candidate's background check came back clean as a whistle!

It was a general internet search that tipped us off to a potential problem. The candidate's name was found in an article as the subject of an FBI sting on a potential internet sex predator. We immediately went to the national sex offender's registry, and to our dismay, found our new hire's name. When we explored the situation more carefully, we learned the candidate had a recent misdemeanor charge for solicitation, not a felony charge. Regardless, the charge was so new that it didn't show up on a criminal background report, and we're not confident it would have because it was a low level misdemeanor.

At the beginning of the hiring process, the candidate expressed confidence that their background check report would return satisfactory. When the topic was re-visited after our discovery, the candidate was shocked a problem existed since the offense was only a misdemeanor. Apparently, his attorney's advice was that pre-employment screening only searched for felonies.

Here's a summary of what we learned through this situation.

• Although traditional background checks are necessary, they are simply inadequate.

• Candidates may not be purposefully misleading, but rather their reference point may be different.

• A nation-wide criminal records check simply does not exist. The only thing close to it is the FBI criminal database, also known as the NCIC (National Crime Information Center). This database however, is NOT public record and cannot legally be accessed by anyone other than criminal justice agencies.

• County records searches are more reliable than state records searches, because state criminal indexes receive their data from each of their respective counties. This means that if a county fails to report criminal data to the state, the statewide index may not be complete. Furthermore, it may take weeks, or even months, for state records to reflect the most common source of a criminal record.

• Not all court systems have public access terminals to check records with, as they may not have yet developed a system separating public records from non-public ones.

• Other resources include thousands of separate criminal indexes maintained at the numerous, parish, township, and city levels throughout the United States. Conducting a nationwide search extensive enough to include resources, such as these, would require accessing each individual index. This would be difficult, time consuming, and prohibitively expensive. While there are various investigative firms advertising that they provide "Comprehensive Nationwide Criminal Records," it is apparent that what they are advertising is too good to be true.

In summary, we suggest launching a background investigation with a well thought out application that does two things. First, the application should require residence details for at least ten years. Without this information, it’s almost impossible to properly investigate. Lastly, your applications should require the applicant to approve investigating their background, including criminal records, at the beginning of the hiring process.

The information applicants provide should be enough to begin searching the appropriate criminal indexes, and launch a general internet search. Again, there are no guarantees. But, you now have more than a gut feeling to evaluate a potential new employee. Remember, it only takes one mistake to severely damage your brand.

As a result of this incident, UpSearch now provides a general internet search on all candidates. Although searching the internet is not a substitute for engaging a pre-employment screening firm, it does help reduce the risk of hiring someone with an unsatisfactory background.

Good Hunting!

- Shawn Upchurch

Shawn Upchurch designs customized hiring programs for companies of all sizes, as well as providing direct recruiting services. Shawn can be reached at 888.830.1904 x208 or

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