October 2016 Meeting: Background Checks: the Who, What, When, Where, How & Why

What we covered:

  1. Why should you background check?
  2. Who should you background check?
  3. When should you do it in the hiring process?
  4. What should you check for?
  5. How should you go about it?
  6. What if you find negative information and don’t want to hire?

Dave Wilson, a partner at Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP, who advises businesses and non-profits on employment matters, gave a presentation on how to navigate the Commonwealth’s CORI and non-discrimination laws in the hiring process.  Kimberly Napoli from the same firm assisted with the presentation. He covered the following areas: 1) why should you background check?  2) Who should you background check?  3) When should you do it in the hiring process? 4) What should you check for? 5) How should you go about it? And 6) What if you find negative information and don’t want to hire?
According David and Kimberly, the new Massachusetts CORI Law went into effect in 2009, which triggered taking any kind of criminal record questions off the job application.  The new sequence of hiring is:  applicant fills out the initial written application form with no questions about criminal background, applicant takes skills assessment test (if applicable), and then applicant interviews for the job.  Doing a telephone screening first can save time. After an interview, you can have the applicant fill out a Supplemental Application Form, which can include questions about criminal background.   The next step is to make the job offer, conditional on a satisfactory CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) check.  The employer then gets the applicant’s written permission for the CORI check and other background screening checks (such as a credit check).

ICORI is the on-line method for doing CORI checks.  If you use this site, you need to put in the exact name of the person you are checking.  In general, you can check the background of a prospective employee, but you cannot ask about salary history. You can ask what his/her preferred salary range is.  If you get a CORI back with an issue on it, the best practice is to give the applicant “Due Process” – ask them to explain the issue.  It could be something that happened a long time ago when they were a teenager, etc. You must provide a copy of the CORI to the applicant. If you are considering not proceeding with the employment based on negative information in the CORI, then your company should send out a “pre-adverse action disclosure letter” to the applicant.  A company is not allowed to make a negative hiring decision based on a CORI without discussing it with the applicant first.  So the next step is to have further discussion with the candidate, then make a decision, inform the candidate, send out a “post-adverse action disclosure” letter if you use an outside background check service, and then hire or no hire.  One helpful hint would be to have someone else besides the person doing the hiring, do a Google and Facebook search on the candidate for all those who will be called in for final interviews.

David and Kimberly pointed out some practices that are important.  It is very important to have applicant fill out a written formal application form.  The applicant by signing the document is stating that everything in the application is true, and if it turns out not to be true, then that is grounds for firing the person later on if necessary.  Also, even though it is more costly, it is a better practice to use a 3rd party vendors to do the background checks.  It is very important to do background checks, especially for some positions. It is better to screen unsuitable applicant out early in the process. It is also very important that an employer be fair and reasonable when dealing with applicants.   Always give applicants and employees due process. For references, you should ask the applicant for the names of their past supervisors and ask his/her permission to talk to them.  Better yet, you should ask the applicant to actually set-up the call with their former supervisors for you.  Also, when making the call, you should state your questions upfront.  Good reference questions are:  What did the person do at your company? What did the person do well?  What were some areas that needed improvements, and rate the persons as an effective employee form one to ten? If you have questions about using CORI, you can go to the DCJIS website (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/dcjis/ to access publications with step by step instructions.