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Background Checks & Employee Accountability

Updated on November 23, 2015

When to Hire Your First Employee

Getting Prepared For The New Guy

As the sole proprietor of a property maintenance business, it took two and half years of pinching my pennies and grinding out 18 hour work days until I had finally bootstrapped my way into establishing a respectable customer base. With the workload increasing, I felt it was time to hire my first employee.

Like most things that come with starting a business, I decided to do some planning and research into hiring a new employee. I already had a pretty good understanding of the basic requirements, but still spent about a week reading articles on the additional taxes involved, competitive salaries and benefits, safety regulations and OSHA compliance, along with employee privacy and related legal issues.

Prior to posting the ad for the position, I wanted to make sure that I had researched all the variables that are associated with hiring your first employee. There are liability issues involved and I wanted to make sure my business was protected.

I also felt it was important that, whoever I hired would have a safe and enjoyable place to work. I wanted them to feel comfortable and motivated to come into work each day.

After conducting a labor cost analysis, I figured I'd pay my first employee $11 an hour to start. Based on their experience, after 60 days, I would give them a dollar raise as long as they were performing their job duties according to my specification.

Following the 2 month probationary period, they would also be given the opportunity to negotiate benefits. By allowing them to choose what benefit they wanted, they would have something that best suited their needs. By doing so, I hoped it would help keep them satisfied about their job and motivated to show up everyday.

Furthermore, I decided to throw in a perk by putting out free coffee and donuts every morning and I also installed a stereo system in the shop and bought a monthly satellite radio subscription. I figured the music would help keep my employee motivated and productive, while also providing potential clients a more enjoyable experience.



The Criteria for Screening Employees

During that week of research, reading articles and blogs and how-to-guides, I began to notice that almost every article had something in common. They were all telling me the exact same thing.

I'm not referring to similarities such as Employee Eligibility Verification, setting up Federal Income Tax Withholding or creating an employee compensation and benefits package. Those are business standards that everyone has to comply with.

What I'm referring to are the similarities that seemed to base hiring requirements on who you shouldn't consider hiring, rather than determining who the best candidate was for the job. I thought to myself, "anybody can do that".

As employers, are we supposed to look at someone who applies for a job and immediately see them as a possible criminal or threat to the business? It wasn't that long ago when the majority of business owners did background checks to simply verify the applicants identity and references. Yet every article I read was telling me that I needed to do things that go against everything I believe about civil rights and the people's right to privacy.

The list was made of up things like, "don't trust your instincts", "do criminal background checks", "test for illegal substances", "screen out applicants who have undesirable lifestyles" and "avoid people with a bad credit score". In fact, the only thing I could find that told me who I should hire, rather then who I shouldn't hire, was when I read that employers need to look for culturally diverse individuals when they hire someone.

I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute in light of what I was being told. The repeated message I was getting was I'm supposed to screen out those who maybe have a minor criminal offense 20 years ago, or their credit score isn't so great, or maybe they live their life in a way that I wouldn't personally desire, while at the same time, I'm supposed to practice discriminatory hiring methods because if I hire somebody that is white, then somehow I am not promoting cultural diversity? Does this mean I am a racist too?

Why Did Our Hiring Practices Change?

I'm not naive. I understand the world is full of people who would lie, steal and cheat their way into a job. The world is full of dishonest criminals and scam artist's. However, the world has always had these types of people in it. Nothing has changed. The world has always had undesirable people who do bad things at the expense of others.

The fact is, it wasn't until after the events of 9/11 that employers began to tighten up on their hiring policies, making it more difficult for people to qualify for a job.

Maybe after it just happened I could understand the fear that would influence employers to use a more comprehensive background check. Yet, there's something about it that just doesn't make sense anymore.

When you consider that our country was attacked by terrorist's, but it's the American people who are being punished, their just isn't any logic in that situation. How can we fear an enemy that lives 10,000 miles away, who hasn't attacked us in 15 years, and who's leader has been dead for nearly 5 years?


The Aftermath for Business Owners

Somehow, fear still resonates in many facets of American society and government. Why, after 15 years do we still have mandatory background checks to get a job? It's just so routine now, that nobody notices it anymore. Before 9/11, about 40% of business required an in-depth background check. Now, 90% of the businesses in this country require them.

That's not to say there aren't jobs in the private sector that shouldn't use background checks. There are many jobs where you would expect it, such as a bank manager, a police officer or a teacher.

However, when the scope of such a policy includes jobs that don't require much more accountability other than to simply show up to work on-time and use common sense and experience to do the job, it seems background checks are being abused and misappropriated.

Being the type of person I am, conformity is not one of my strong suits. That's part of the reason why I decided to become an entrepreneur. I like things done my way.

Therefore, hiring my first employee was more about creating the potential for my business rather than conformity to a system that rubber gloves candidates right out of contention for a job.

Qualified people are in short supply. Why should I narrow the field and limit my options based on a supposed fear of terrorism? I like the fact that I sleep better at night in knowing I haven't simply sold out and become a just another sheep.

I hire the right people for the job, based on their skills, experience and character. Not their credit history or a shoplifting charge they got 20 years ago.


Traditional Interview

Prior to advertising the job opening on the Internet, or in the newspaper, I'll write out a few questions, that way when resumes and phone calls start coming in, I have a screening process that asks questions and evaluates responses to determine which applicants are qualified and those I can eliminate.

When I began interviewing potential candidates, I looked for good character, the skills required to do the job and their body language. I evaluate their behavior and non-verbal communication to try and pick up on any deception or dishonesty in their answers. I also want to assess how confident and motivated they are.

You have to ask yourself, "is this person really as qualified as they claim to be, or are they simply attempting to sweet talk their way into the job without having any idea of how to do it? I suppose in some way that shows ambition on their part, but for me, it pretty much kills any credibility that person had. It's a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned.

I realize most organizations use a more comprehensive hiring strategy, incorporating all sorts of behavioral tests and screening procedures, even going so far to hire people based on how culturally diverse they are. In my opinion, screening out a potential employee based on the fact that they are white is nothing more than reverse discrimination.

I'm not the only one who believes this. The Supreme Court has ruled on this issue and in fact, it is considered reverse discrimination. If you really want to protect your business from a possible lawsuit, don't ever let anyone ever tell you different.

You can't hire someone based on their ethnicity, that is unless your centralized and have to conform to affirmative action laws. Personally, I would never consider using these types of hiring procedures.

I simply screen job applicants to determine if they are qualified to do the job, regardless of race or ethnicity. If they're qualified, I will hire them. That's not to say that I don't evaluate the impression I have of an applicant. Their character is very important, and I take that into consideration in my final decision.

Before hiring someone, I do conduct a simple, non-invasive background check to identify their citizenship, age, verify their references and I will see if they have any outstanding warrants or if they've been convicted of murder or any sex crimes. However, if they've got a small, non-violent pinch on their record, who am I to say they don't deserve a second chance.

They did their time and are obviously ready to get back to work to try to be productive citizens again. In my experience, not only do they work out, but they are extremely productive workers. For the ex-cons who don't want to go to back to prison, they will put forth more effort and put more heart into their work than any employee I've ever had.

Despite what most company’s require, I believe post 9/11 background checks have become extremely aggressive. It seems to me that too many company’s these days are hiring for positions that don't require a high level of accountability, yet still check into things like credit history, simple misdemeanor convictions or they require drug testing. In my opinion, many corporations have forgotten the meaning of Constitution.

They have lost sight of what protects the freedoms we all live for in this country. They have been complicit in the trade-off of freedom and fostering the fear that makes everyone believe we need more security.


Hire Based on Experience

I understand that being new to the industry, that if I hired the wrong person, I was making my business vulnerable to problems I didn't need. I also understand that not every small business can afford to take such risks. I'll be the first to admit my style is a bit unorthodox for the times we live in.

For me, I tend to rely more on my personal instincts to direct my judgement. That's not to say I don't check out their background. I simply look to see if they have any outstanding warrants, and if they've ever been convicted of murder, rape or child molestation. Other than that, I'll ask them about it, and based on their response, I'll make a decision. Just because they have a felony on their record doesn't mean they don't deserve a second chance.

I'm telling you all of this based on my own personal experience. The first person I hired had all the qualifications I could expect. He came into the interview with confidence and answered my questions with smart, firm answers. He was eager to apply himself to the job, he wanted to help my business grow, and he was flexible to the schedule I needed him to work. The only thing wrong was that he had spent 6 years in prison for Burglary.

Being the curious, open-minded person that I am, I decided to get his side of the story instead of automatically assuming that the person isn't worth the time. I figured, why fear someone who is simply trying better themselves? To me, it doesn't make much sense.

When he told me his story, I couldn't believe he had received such a lengthy prison sentence for something anyone of us would likely do in the same situation. The fact of the matter is, that he did burglarize a vehicle when he reached inside through the drivers side window, popped the hood, and removed the car battery.

He took the battery because he was in a desperate situation. His car wouldn't start, it was 30 degrees outside, he was in the in the middle of nowhere and despite attempting to flag down passing motorist's, nobody would stop to help him.

Four hours passed by, it was 2 in the morning and the temperature was still falling. So, out of desperation, he walked about a half a mile until he saw a parked vehicle and he stole the battery out of it. To me, that's just basic survival instincts kicking in. However, the judge didn't feel that way and he sentenced him to six years in prison for it.

Risk Equals Reward

Despite having all the qualifications to do the job, most employers will use that as a reason to disqualify someone from getting the job. Well, I'm not most employers. I took a chance on the guy and 18 months later, he's still working for me, supervising the day crew and in the year and a half he's been here, he's only missed one day of work to attend his fathers funeral.

He has shown nothing but dedication, hard work and commitment to helping me achieve the objectives and overall goals of my company. Furthermore, if not for his contribution, my business would never have grown to where it is today. His productivity and positive attitude have been key factors in driving my business towards success.

In my case, the first employee I hired, not only turned out to be a significant asset for my business, but was also a convicted felon who had been turned down seven times before he walked into my shop. I was fortunate to hire someone who was reliable and productive. When you come across someone who has the experience and work-ethic to help keep your business productive, common sense tells you to give them a chance. It's productivity that stimulates growth.

This is all not to say that small business owners shouldn't take precautions. Losing an employee for whatever reason can create the kind of problems that can be a real hassle. However, by taking a few simple steps, you can protect yourself and the business from any threat the terminated employee may pose. There are specific security measures that you need to take to help protect your business:

  • Remove Employee’s Computer Access Privileges

  • Change the Locks

  • Get Back All Keys and Change the Alarm Code

  • Document Reasons for Firing Employee

  • Make Sure They are Paid their Last Check

Entrepreneurs can minimize any potential threat that a disgruntled employee may pose by improving or changing the security of the building and making sure the terminated employee is paid there last check and that none of their belongings are left behind. You really don't want to give them a reason to come back.


Background Checks

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Call Me What You Want

My hiring practices may work against the grain and defy current trends, but I hire people based on their attitude and abilities, not their personal finances or bad credit. Everyone makes mistakes and that's okay. America is the land of second chances. At least it's supposed to be.

Call me an idealist or a dreamer if you want. I relied on my own judge of character and experience to evaluate my first two employees based on their character rather than on past mistakes. I didn't care about what they did behind closed doors, and you know what? My philosophy has worked out just fine. Then again, why shouldn't it? That's the method business owners used to hired its people for years. It wasn't until the events of 9/11 that employer hiring procedures became so rigorous and invasive.

To investigate someone's credit history or how they live their personal lives in order to be considered for a construction job, or sales associate or a burger flipper in the fast food industry is nothing more than an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and goes against everything the Bill of Rights stands for.

Tell Me What You Think

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      julieprather 21 months ago

      I agree with the fact that we shouldn't hire people based on how culturally diverse they are. It's true that employers are screening out qualified applicants based on race. Anyways you look at it, its reverse discrimination against whites.

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