Best site for conducting employee background checks?
March 22, 2013 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm involved in a fairly new business which is small but growing pretty fast. We figure it'd be a good idea to start doing background checks (primarily concerned with criminal/sex-crime record) on new hires, but I'm not sure what's the best way to go about it. When I research online there're dozens of options which I've listed below. Intellius / Talentwise and US Search seem to be the best known and reputable ones, but also the most expensive. If I go with one of the more no-name sites, such as, am I taking a risk that their database is incomplete/outdated, or even that using them doesn't comply with employment law (DPPA, FCRA)?

posted by jcfudgely to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Kroll is the big "brand name" I've heard of in this space. Might be worth getting a quote from them to see if they can compete with the other firms you mentioned.
posted by musicismath at 9:47 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Every state has a State Bureau of Investigation. In Maine, it's slow, but it's usually affordable, and, as far as I know, accurate.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you not just ask potential employees to provide a criminal record check letter for positions where it's relevant? Like go to the police themselves?

I've gone to the RCMP and got a letter showing I don't have a record for two different jobs. The benefit of this is that it's privacy enhancing: people who don't want to share that information can withdraw their application for the job. Sometimes, individuals are genuinely surprised they have a record and it alerts them to an error or something to clear up (i.e. unpaid speeding tickets are a common reason someone has a record and didn't think they did).

I don't think you can have any reasonable assurance that you're getting accurate information unless you're going directly to the source. That source is law enforcement agencies, not some company that trolled court records periodically and aggregated them for a fee.
posted by Kurichina at 10:04 AM on March 22, 2013

Can you not just ask potential employees to provide a criminal record check letter for positions where it's relevant? Like go to the police themselves?

This, of course, could open up those letters to the potential for alterations, so it might not be such a good idea. The same idea is behind the rules stating that people who sign off on I-9s have to look at the original documents (social security card, passport, etc) as opposed to just copies.

My employer uses two companies, Verifirst and National Background Investigations, Inc.. Both have been reliable and reasonably priced.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:45 AM on March 22, 2013

Criminal background checks are a huge mess.
There are federal checks, state checks, and in some states, county checks. California is an example of individual counties maintaining their own criminal records. What that means is there is no single place to check an individual's criminal record.

You may be getting much different costs from different companies because they are only doing state checks, versus federal + state. Check into exactly what they offer including how far they go back. Seven years is the standard. Also, what if you do find something on an applicant? Many companies will provide you with official forms that you can provide that can limit your liability as well as make the process much easier for you.

These companies do not have their own databases. They are querying the various government databases. I would check exactly what types of checks they do and go with a comprehensive criminal check. While it might be expensive, you can limit it to those individuals who you want to offer to, not all that are interviewed as an example.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 10:48 AM on March 22, 2013

This, of course, could open up those letters to the potential for alterations, so it might not be such a good idea.

It is very, very difficult to alter an official letter from a law enforcement agency for this purpose without it being patently obvious, and the consequences of doing so are immense.
posted by Kurichina at 12:55 PM on March 22, 2013

Here's how we, a totally broke non-profit, handle this for our employees and volunteers:

Our application asks for aliases and other states where you might have lived. With that information, we check our state's court system (which is called Missouri Case Net). Nearly every state has one but not all. Then we check that for other states where the applicant lived. From there, we check the sex offender registry in this state and others where the applicant lived.

It's not the most thorough method (people could lie about their former whereabouts or aliases or your state could not have a database like mine) but in 5 years, it's worked out for us and hey, it's free!
posted by youandiandaflame at 1:40 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is very, very difficult to alter an official letter from a law enforcement agency for this purpose without it being patently obvious, and the consequences of doing so are immense.

It's not that difficult, and people do things with immense consequences all the time. I'm simply saying: "hey, it may not be best practice to trust people not to do this."

I know I wouldn't trust people not to.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:09 PM on March 22, 2013

I've heard HireRight is pretty easy to deal with and affordable. I believe they're affiliated with Kroll.
posted by Arbac at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2013

It's not that difficult

Yes, it is. They are certified and verifiable (this is an RCMP but I'll be shocked if the US is so backwards that their law enforcement cannot provide a similar service).

Employers should be very careful about doing screening in general and ensuring that the screening they do is relevant to the job in question. Some employers have been slapped for the privacy violation of screening where it wasn't relevant to the job.

Sometimes you need to screen (particularly for individuals who will be working with vulnerable clients, like children, seniors, or people with disabilities) but often it's not necessary. And when you do screen it is a good idea to do it in a manner that is sensitive to individuals' privacy rights. A process that allows them to drop out of a job competition and that allows them to learn if there is something amiss in their records before it is shared with employers respects those rights (which, in civilized jurisdictions are also the law).
posted by Kurichina at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2013

IANAL, IANYL. As Kitty Cornered says above, there is no such thing as a comprehensive criminal record search. Agencies, states and even counties do not share this information with one another or with database vendors (such as those listed above) in a comprehensive way.

Intellius has problems.

As far as whether you'd be complying with DPAA, FCRA etc., you might consider consulting a lawyer.

The method described by youandiandaflame is a good cheap one. It also relies upon the applicant being honest. And again if the person has lived in some state where there is no comprehensive search available, it's kind of a crapshoot. Records are also rife with errors. If the person's name is William J. Johnson (totally hypothetical example), are you going to search under Will, Bill, Billy and William? What about that J middle initial? What about when you find something under just "Bill Johnson" not "Bill J. Johnson"? Some courts records include dates of birth, some record SSNs, some don't. Sometimes they misspell names. Like I said, crapshoot. And anyone trying to sell you a "comprehensive background check" is full of it. At best you can probably get a general idea of whether someone is a criminal. Key word is "probably."

I don't have experience with the firms recommended above, but they seem more promising than the links you initially found. I guess my point is: be skeptical.
posted by purple_bird at 4:57 PM on March 22, 2013

It's not cheap, but there are a lot of different pricing options. If you are doing a fairly small or an incredibly large amount of background checks, Sterling could work for your budget. They are also good about providing customer support and answering even the dumbest of questions (which I know from all too much personal experience with asking them stupid questions).

I found their results to be remarkably thorough and reasonably fast. They also offer credit checks, educational background checks, and probably a lot of other things that I don't know about. They are good about explaining how employment laws (federal and local) may dictate how you can and cannot use the information.
posted by cheerwine at 6:49 PM on March 22, 2013

Wow, there are a ton of options, but lots of really good advice and suggestions here. I'll look into many of these. Thanks everyone.

One other thing I found is that ADP, which is a payroll service we've been considering, also seems to offer a limited criminal background and SSN verification check for free (at least with the package we're looking at). Further info, such as sex offender registry, workers comp history, etc costs extra though.
posted by jcfudgely at 3:27 PM on April 1, 2013

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