Weighing the benefits of continuous background checks
Most prospective employees go through the background check process once, during the pre-hire stage. However, more organizations are performing annual or semi-annual background investigations on current workers, with a focus on criminal activity, poor credit reports or other types of behavior that could jeopardize employment.
Periodic monitoring of workers, also known as "infinity" screening, is legal as long as employers have obtained a new signed employee release each time in compliance with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA) and state law. Stressful life events such as bankruptcy or a divorce can change an individual's risk profile overnight, leading some organizations to tailor their screening procedures accordingly.
A nonprofit called Sue Weaver CAUSE urges employers to conduct ongoing criminal background checks on service workers. The organization was founded by Lucia Bone following the death of her sister, Sue Weaver, murdered in 2001 by a worker who had not undergone a background screening.
“I very strongly believe that everyone has the right to work, but not every job is right for everyone,” Bone said in a 2015 interview with The New York Times. “It is the employer’s responsibility to protect both their business, their employees and their customers.”
Rescreening may also reveal critical information about a worker missed during the hiring phase. Advocates of the practice believe one-time background checks create a false sense of security that could lead to insider embezzlement, fraud, theft, or even workplace violence. According to a Forrester Research report, 25 percent of survey respondents said that abuse by a malicious insider was the most common way a breach occurred at their company.
Database searches are one form of continuous screening, but employers must make certain the databases available to them are up to date. Certain software programs analyze risk data from public records and HR documents, alerting managers in real time to the most pressing threats.
Infinity screens must also comply with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules on the fair and proper use of criminal records. Although continuous screenings are a means of demonstrating due diligence and protecting the workplace, employers need to express how a new criminal background check has some form of business justification.
Failure to lay out a clear policy can be costly: In 2015, BMW Manufacturing Co. paid $1.6 million to alleged victims of race discrimination to resolve a lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The EEOC stated that the rescreening of existing logistics employees at BMW's Spartanburg, South Carolina, facility disproportionately impacted African-American workers. Since BMW did not have a clear business necessity for excluding the incumbent employees, the rescreening action was deemed illegal.
Whether continuous screening is an effective tool is unclear, but employers across all industries should consider implementing the practice to help manage the risk associated with employee behavior.