Criminal Background Checks That Go Beyond the Database

Stay out of court by making sure your criminal background screening methods are comprehensive and non-discriminatory

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Human Resources on January 9th, 2012

It’s obvious that a comprehensive criminal background check is one of the most basic methods an employer should use to screen employment applicants. But sometimes you need to go beyond the basics to keep your company safe. And safety doesn’t always mean just keeping out an applicant with a criminal history. Safety can also mean having the correct information to make informed decisions about applicants. This ensures that you don’t hire bad candidates and that you don’t eliminate good ones based on bad information.

Compliant Screening

Any screening you do before hiring a candidate should comply with anti-discrimination laws. This applies to criminal background screening as well as any social media screening or other types of background checking you may undertake.

Simple database checks for criminal records sometimes miss the mark, because they aren’t always up to date. This can cause several problems, including mistakenly hiring someone who has a criminal record that wasn’t listed in the database, or eliminating a good candidate because an expunged record in the database hasn’t been updated.

Simple database checks for criminal records sometimes miss the mark, because they aren’t always up to date.
“Given today’s economy, the government entities have had to cut back in a number of areas and, as you might expect, one of those areas is keeping the latest information current within their databases,” says Bill Glenn, vice president of marketing and alliances at TalentWise, which specializes in electronic employment background checks.

In addition, certain counties don’t report information and criminal activity in those countries may not be included in databases. Hiring a candidate without having all the information may open you up to the danger of employee fraud, or worse.

On the other hand, a crime committed many years previously may show up on databases, long after it should have been removed. Or a preliminary criminal file that has been expunged might not have been updated. “Because information is not up to date, you could be inadvertently denying employment to a particular candidate, when in fact they hadn’t committed a crime,” says Glenn.

Accidental Discrimination

FREE Investigation Report Template

Prepare thorough, consistent investigation reports with our free report template.

Download Template

He also cites an example of a company that has a policy of screening out only those candidates with infractions within the last seven years. “If the information in the database isn’t current, the company could be inadvertently denying employment to that particular candidate when an infraction could have happened 10, 15, 20 years ago,” says Glenn. “So, based on company policy, the company would say that person is eligible to be considered for work and if you didn’t have the most up-to-date information you may deny that candidate potential employment when you shouldn’t have.”

This can lead to charges of discrimination, an expensive court case and possible fines.

Go Beyond the Obvious

Glenn recommends going beyond the traditional database search, verifying information at the county courthouse, which is what his company does on behalf of its clients.

“We use a network of county courthouse runners to pull records from the source so we have the most up-to-date information,” he says. “There can be records in a database that are not updated as frequently as what is kept at the county courthouse… The runner gets the physical record and checks the information, sends the information back to the office, where it is vetted by two sets of eyes. The information is then presented in a way that’s digestible by the average HR consumer,” he says.

It’s all part of doing your due diligence on potential hires, and it’s becoming clear from the number of discrimination cases in the news that the courts expect nothing less.


Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

Want to conduct better investigations?

Sign up for i-Sight’s newsletter and get new articles, templates, CE eligible webinars and more delivered to your inbox every week.