Taking the gamble out of hiring

June 1, 2003 By    

With all of the security-related problems that companies face today, it makes no sense at all not to conduct pre-employment screening.

Pre-employment screening is a non-discrimination action that weeds out fraudulent data and misrepresentation. It provides your company with documentation in negligent hiring and retention suits, and is a tremendous proactive tool in preventing violence in the workplace. It also helps reduce other security-related employment problems.

Many companies find that, when they engage in pre-employment screening, turnover plummets, as do security and safety problems. Your good employees, in fact, will particularly appreciate the fact that you are making the effort to screen out troublemakers who make it uncomfortable for your good workers to be around. In fact, if you make it clear to applicants from the beginning that you engage in thorough pre-screening, most of those with something to hide turn around and immediately walk out the door before even asking for employment applications.

Once you realize the value of pre-employment screening, the next step is to determine whether to conduct the screening in-house or to utilize a professional third-party firm.

Internal Screening

While it makes sense to work with an outside firm in most cases, there are two instances where it may make sense to consider an in-house screening program.

The first is when you have a very large company with an existing team of investigators. The second is when the vast majority of your applicants are local, and all of the information your company needs to gather, therefore, is also local.

The benefits to an in-house program are that you have more control, quicker access to completed investigations, and knowledge of sources being used. One company that conducts its own investigations is Eastern Propane (Oak Ridge, NJ). The company follows all U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for new hires, including:

  • Prepare a driver qualification file.
  • Obtain and approved application for employment.
  • Have the prospective employee complete a traffic violation form, where the person attests to whether or not he has received a motor vehicle violation.
  • Perform a check of driving records from a two-state area.
  • Perform an inquiry to past employers for a period of three years by phone and by mail on an approved form. “A lot of time, you can learn quite a bit by the tone of the person’s voice,” explains Robert B. Nicholson III, president and CEO of the 65-employee company.
  • Perform a required medical exam.
  • Perform pre-employment drug and alcohol testing.
  • Perform a certificate of road exam.
  • Perform a written Driver Analysis Test. Eastern Propane uses a test available from Keller Recruiting and Retention Success System. “This provides us with a safety aptitude of the prospective employee,” says Nicholson.

If you don’t have the resources to conduct in-house screening but want to explore the option further, consider resources offered by the National Propane Gas Association, which offers the services of HR University.

“This provides a number of tools for screening and hiring, such as information on how to check references and do other background checking,” explains Bree Raum, membership services coordinator. One of the most important screenings, according to Raum, is criminal history. “All employers should check this,” she emphasizes.

While you want to screen for things like criminal backgrounds, you also want to make sure that the people you hire will work safely.

“I have heard employers comment for years about problems they have with employees’ unsafe behaviors,” reports Dan Hartshorn, a loss control consultant for the California State Compensation Insurance Fund. “In most cases, I have found the problems stem from hiring too quickly. I encourage employers to spend more time and care in the selection process, especially in the area of safety.”

To assist employers in this area, Hartshorn has come up with 10 open-ended questions employers can ask applicants to assess their attitudes related to safety.

“The questions are designed so that applicants are forced to come up with their own answers,” he explains. “In addition, they challenge applicants to do some thinking – to analyze situations and respond in ways that will reveal their true thought processes.” (See sidebar on page 15)

While the answers themselves are important, Hartshorn emphasizes that the justifications applicants provide for the answers are even more important.

“For example, when you ask an applicant what the most important part of a safety program is, the answer he or she selects isn’t as important as the reasons the person gives for that answer. Pay attention to the justification the applicant uses for his answer,” he says.

Some red flags are applicants who give little thought to their answers, seem to accept limited responsibility for their own safety, or who tend to want to do things their own way instead of seeking assistance or advice from supervisors.

Should you administer these questions verbally or in written form? That depends, according to Hartshorn.

“If you have a large number of applicants, and if you suspect their written skills are acceptable, it is a good idea to have them write their responses.” In this way, you can take your time later to compare and contrast their answers.

“On the other hand, if your applicants have limited written skills, or if you have a small number of applicants, you can ask the questions verbally,” he adds.

Third-party screening

For many companies, though, especially smaller ones, it makes more sense to work with a professional third-party firm. Some benefits to an outside firm are the availability of experts and their knowledge of laws related to screening activity and information.

If you do elect to outsource the program, experts offer several recommendations:

Steer clear of third-parties that provide database services only, rather than professional investigative services. Database service information is often based solely on newspaper articles from major newspapers. It may be inaccurate and incomplete. In addition, there is no national database for criminal records available to private employers.

The very best way to set your sights on the most promising third-party screening firms is to get referrals from other companies in your area who use such firms. Some questions to ask these companies:

  • Does your screening firm provide information in such a way as to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other applicable statues?
  • Does it have standard forms and processes in place so that you and they do not have to “reinvent the wheel”?
  • Will it tailor its program and reporting forms to your specific needs?
  • What kind of turnaround time does the firm provide? The very best offer 24- or 48-hour service and will immediately phone or fax you results so the hiring process can continue quickly.
  • Find out how they respond to errors that they have made. For example, occasionally two people in the same household have the same name, and a screening firm could provide information on the wrong person.

What is important is how they handle their mistakes. A good firm will have an 800 number that applicants can call if they feel information provided about them is inaccurate.

Once you have selected the best firm, find some ways to get the best pricing.

Experts suggest that you arrange for all of your departments and locations to be involved in the program, so you can get better individual pricing based on volume. You may even want to combine your needs by working with one or more other companies in your area to get even more volume and a better rate.

Rather than requiring the firm to conduct dozens of different levels of investigations for different job descriptions, considering creating three or four large employment categories, each with its own requirements. You can then design a package of screens that will keep costs down.

1 – What were the most important safety rules at your previous job?

2 – Why is it necessary for employers to have safety programs and safety rules?

3 – Describe how you feel about the following statement: “The employer is solely responsible for the safe work behavior of all employees.”

4 – A safety program has many parts (examples: safety training, safety inspections, safety meetings, safety incentive programs, disciplinary procedures, accident investigations, safety guards and personal protective equipment, safety committees, written programs and procedures, etc.) What do you think are the two most important parts of most safety programs? Please explain why.

5 – What would you do if you saw a fellow employee working in an unsafe way?

6 – What would you do if your supervisor gave you a task, but didn’t provide any training on how to safely perform the job?

7 – What would you do if a safety rule for your job was inconvenient and slowed down your productivity?

8 – If your supervisor explained to you twice how to use a new piece of equipment, but you still didn’t understand, what would you do?

9 – Explain why you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Safety rules are general guidelines that should be followed most of the time. However, if employees are experienced and careful, alternative methods are OK to use.”

10 – Describe the relationship, if any, between safety and productivity.

(Courtesy of Dan Hartshorn, Loss Control Consultant, California Compensation Insurance Fund, Stockton, CA)

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