Today Show Report Highlights Room for Improvement

  • November 14, 2012
  • 1 comment
  • Nick Fishman

I’ve taken the weekend to collect my thoughts and think about the expose that aired on NBC’s Today Show that called into question the accuracy of employment background checks.  And truth be told, I’m somewhat torn.  On one hand, I am very proud of the service that our industry provides.  We help employers make informed decisions about the people they want to hire.  In doing so, we help them protect their businesses, their employees and the clients or the people they serve.  It’s an honorable profession, but it is hard to know the impact of what we do.  How do you prove that you prevented a violent crime in the work place when the employee background check you provided included a record that caused the employer to move in a different direction?

So fine, we don’t get to bask in the glory of our work the way others do by celebrating the wins.  But we do care deeply about the work we perform and care about getting it right for our clients and their job candidates.  It doesn’t serve anyone well to provide inaccurate reports.

So, here’s the other side of the equation.

There are companies in our industry who report inaccurate information from time to time.  It isn’t their goal to do so, but it’s faster and less expensive to do it that way.  And guess what?  It’s legal.  The practice is referred to as contemporaneous notice and it requires employment background screening companies to report criminal records as is and without verifying the information.  They then have the responsibility of sending the applicant a copy of their record and allowing them to dispute the results if they are incorrect.

Could EmployeeScreenIQ engage in this practice?  We could, but we choose not to as part of our “No Shortcuts” approach to background screening.  Instead, we choose to verify the information before it is reported.  Does it take longer to do?  Does it cost more money?  Absolutely.  But it gives our clients and hopefully their candidates the peace of mind that the work we produce is fair and accurate.

Back to the Today Show piece.

There is no doubt that Jeff Rossen took some of the worst examples he could find to make our industry look bad.  I also believe that he edited the interview with an industry spokesperson to make her look out of touch with the public’s concerns (they had an hour long interview that was condensed to about 30 seconds).  However, I was extremely disappointed with the statistic that our industry error rate was “less than 10%”.  I’m sorry, but that just isn’t acceptable to me.  At EmployeeScreenIQ, we measure the number of disputes made by the candidates we screen at 0.02%.  And that’s just the number of reports that are disputed.  Those that are overturned by error are a fraction of that number.  We’ve heard the same thing from a number of our competitors.

So, I respectfully submit that statistic doesn’t represent EmployeeScreenIQ and many others in our industry.  Last week, Angela Bosworth wrote that it was tough to speak out against people that you know, like and respect.  I feel the same way.  I count a number of people that work for some of the companies that were negatively highlighted in the report as friends.  But that doesn’t mean I think that they should continue the practices that hurt our industry time and time again.  We all look bad when these things happen and rather than blindly stand behind our colleagues in solidarity, I think it is more important to find ways to improve what is wrong.

Personally, I think contemporaneous notice should be rethought, at least from an employment screening standpoint.  I think that companies should be held to the maximum possible accuracy standard called for in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  That doesn’t mean outlawing criminal databases.  What it means is using them, as we do, as a pointer for further research at the source of the record (oftentimes at the county where the person was convicted).

We can all get upset that NBC chose to cast our industry in a negative light and point out what was wrong about the report but it’s time to take this issue seriously before the rising tide of critics brings public sentiment to a tipping point.  Employers and job applicants are counting on us.

Nick Fishman is co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President of EmployeeScreen IQ. The opinions expressed in the post are his own.