Thursday, July 19, 2007

Its “buyer beware” for church background checks!

Last week I exhibited at a national conference for church administrators. As chance would have it my booth was situated only two away from a major supplier of background checks to the church community and within the context of this particular conference, a competitor. Shortly, this “competitor” recognized our company name and came over to engage us in conversation. I was taken back by what I heard and after a short time realized that we represented two totally different industries altogether. He represented the sales industry and we, the security industry. A key distinction based upon the conversation that followed next.

This competitor was a database re-seller who offered a “nationwide” solution for churches to use to screen employees and volunteers. I asked how he felt about selling database checks to churches given the problems religious organizations are facing with child safety and the like. His answer was “hey we make a ton of money on databases. All I do is sell them what they want, or, what they think they want”. When I asked what he tells his clients about the FTC/FCRA entanglements inherent in the use of database searches for employment screening and he said, “I don’t get involved in that. Once I sell them the data I’m out of it”. Through further conversation it occurred to me that this salesman was unversed in the myriad of compliance issues involving his product and probably couldn’t care less.

If I sound angry about this – well you’re right. But also disappointed at the attitude that inaccurate “nationwide” database searches were just all right for churches. Just one day after the largest church related child sexual abuse settlement in history, I am here to tell you – no they’re not! Here are some facts for church administrators to consider when selecting a background screening service provider:
  • Know exactly what you are getting and where your provider is obtaining the information they provide. This is your responsibility and part of your due-diligence.
  • Database searches should never be the core of a proper background check. Databases consist of information purchased from courts or from companies that purchase information form courts – and updated periodically. By their very nature they are inaccurate and litigators know this. Begin with a social security number verification and check where the employment application and the SSN verification indicate. Consider a national database search only as an additional level of defense - to “cast a wide net” so to speak. On average, databases cover only about 50% of venues nationwide so the chance is great that they don’t even cover your applicant’s place of residence or employment.
  • There is no difference in a background check for a church, a school, or a business. A quality background check is a quality background check and can be delivered by any employment screening firm that is both experienced and credible. Companies that claim to be church specific in their offerings are taking advantage of a marketing tool and change the name of their company depending on the trade shows at which they are exhibiting.
  • Make sure that your screening approach targets the specific types of positions you have. Be sure your contact person at the screening company has the expertise needed to assist you throughout your process and that his/her involvement doesn’t end once they take your money.
  • Screen volunteers the same way you would screen employees. Courts have held that churches have the same liability with volunteers as with employees.
  • By federal law, you must confirm the results you get from a database search with a real county criminal court record search before taking adverse action based upon the result. Why not do it the right way the first time by using county searches. You will increase accuracy and save money in the end.

Based upon the Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements that background check information be derived from the most accurate source(s) available, database use is riddled with peril for both the applicant and the employer. The “buyer beware” mentality of some database sellers is a terrible commentary on the industry. Your church and the people it serves cannot afford the scattergun approach to background checks the database search provides. Due-diligence in the selection of the employment screening products your church uses will help protect your constituents and limit liability.

Monday, July 02, 2007

EEOC Takes Aim at Employment Credit Reports

Recently, our government’s ability to keep secrets has been put to the test. Insider leaks to the press about confidential programs designed to make us safer are frustrating to say the least. But, there is one nasty secret that I am glad was leaked. This May, the EEOC tipped its hand on its intent to intrude on your ability to screen employees by taking a more aggressive stance against the use of credit reports in the applicant screening process. This, partially driven by EEOC’s realization that the use of credit reports to help screen applicants is at an all time high.

Where’s the beef? It lies in the fact that certain minority groups (particularly black Americans) tend to have lower credit scores than non minorities. The lower credit scores are driven by the higher rate amongst minorities of bankruptcies, collection accounts, credit defaults, and other issues that appear on a credit report - as well as the lower credit value given to certain job categories often held by minority job applicants. In other words, credit reports by their very nature have a racially disparate impact.

If you use credit reports as part of your employment screening process, here are some important things to remember:

• Use “Employment Credit Reports” to screen applicants. Employment credit reports do not show the applicant’s credit score or account numbers. They are specially designed to meet FCRA standards for the use of credit reports in employment screening.

• Avoid developing hard rules, standards, or numeric guidelines for screening out applicants based upon the information contained in the credit report (e.g. a certain number of collection accounts, or charged off accounts will automatically negate consideration). Some believe that by applying a consistent standard to all applicants that they have developed a fair policy. Not so, says the EEOC! Racially “neutral” employment policies may run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

• Make sure that the use of the credit report is closely related (“job relatedness”) to the position applied for. For example, you may be able to show a nexus between a credit report and an Accounting Manager but not between a credit report and a Customer Service Manager. A cashier may handle each dollar that goes into your coffer but the Office Manager who handles your deposit may be more of a theft risk than the cashier. Since there is a correlation between income level and “bad” credit (and race and bad credit), you will have an impossible time justifying the use of a credit report for positions like "cashier", "clerk", "associate", "representitive", or other similar hourly paid jobs.

• Reserve credit reports for management level candidates such as: Manager, Director, Vice president, etc.; then, only for positions in which the employee has unusual power over company accounts or funds. Positions for which history shows a higher incidence of bribes, kickbacks or other forms of inappropriate influence should be considered (such as procurement; real estate; advertising; etc.).

• Document, in writing, your reason for using a credit report for a particular position. The process of reasoning through each justification will help identify positions for which credit reports should not be used.

• Be familiar with the FCRA requirements regarding the use of consumer reports. Realize that credit reports may contain inaccuracies. If you are going to deny employment based wholly or partially on the information contained in a credit report, you must provide an adverse action letter. An applicant has specific rights under the FCRA that you must be aware of and comply with.

Again, the key to using credit reports safely and effectively is to be able to justify their use by showing “job relatedness”. But be careful. The EEOC states that they have seen no study, to date, that shows a connection between credit reports and any job, at any level. Notwithstanding, during a recent meeting in May the EEOC concluded that they cannot absolutely say that there is never a link between credit any employment worthiness.

There is much to be derived from the proper use of credit reports in employment screening. Often employers can discover court ordered judgments, restitution agreements, or other actions relative to previous employers that may point to past dishonesty. By adopting a policy that allows credit reports to be considered and weighed on an individual basis and in conjunction with all other information gathered during the interview and background investigation process you will be on you way to hardening you employment screening against attack. Use the credit header report (a.k.a. Social Security Number search) in all cases in which a full employment credit report cannot be justified. As always, Asset Control will keep our clients updated on decisions and trends that impact you in your effort to hire the best employees!