Continuous employee screening, sometimes known as “infinity screening,” is the practice of conducting criminal background checks and drug tests for existing employees every one to three years. Though it has caught on with less than 20 percent of employers overall, the proliferation of screening tools and searchable databases has spawned a growing trend.
If you’re considering whether to implement continuous employee screening, read on for some of the pros and cons that might affect your decision.
Post-hire insider threats range from embezzlement, fraud and theft to violent behavior that may be taking place at home or elsewhere, and carried over into the workplace. Many jobs are of such a nature that safety or security concerns are elevated, and continuous employee screening for drug or alcohol abuse, vice crimes or similar offenses becomes highly relevant to job performance.
The risk mitigation goal is to minimize the chance of insider threats. Risk managers looking to be proactive have begun advocating going beyond pre-employment to conduct ongoing screening of employees for criminal arrests or convictions. The rationale is that this will provide an environment of control and physical safety.
There are no cost-benefit studies to date that directly address whether it’s worth undergoing the expense and trouble of starting up a continuous employee screening policy. The higher the risks based on the job type or workplace, product or overall levels of security required, the more it makes sense.
If such checks are to be done, the next issue to address is how they’re conducted. Using commonly available criminal database and records search software yields the possibility of both false positives and false negatives. Databases available to private employers (as opposed to law enforcement) are not always complete, accurate, or up to date. In large states like California, New York, and Texas, the statistical possibility of error is large enough to question the real value of search results. Background search firms that look directly at courthouse records within the employer’s geographic area yield more reliable results.
One company with more than 30,000 employees and contractors hired a real-time background monitoring service to run background checks on every employee. The search uncovered 11 felony arrests, five drug-related arrests and one multiple sex offender during three months of monitoring.
For new workers coming onboard when a policy is already in place, continuous screening is less of an issue. However, when you implement it as a new policy then current employees may have more difficulty accepting it. HR will need to conduct some employee education on the rationale, and to show how the policy benefits everyone.
It’s wise to think carefully about your company’s justification for the practice, and how to demonstrate that continuous employee screening keeps everyone safer. If workers feel they are constantly suspected of criminal activity, it can be a real morale killer.
There’s also the fear factor. If longtime, loyal employees feel they are subject to dismissal at any time for a minor offense that may or may not bear upon their work performance, that’s a sure formula for creating workplace stress. A written policy in the employee handbook or on the consent form, explaining the risk and safety considerations that prompted the continuous screening policy, will help address any disgruntlement.
Job application forms should make it clear that any material falsehood or omission from the applicant can result in termination no matter when it is discovered.
Employee handbooks should include language on what will happen if the employer discovers falsehoods or omissions post-hire.
Consent Forms – Does the employee know he or she will be re-screened, and is the program is in compliance with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and state law? Employers should ensure background check releases have an evergreen clause to allow future screening if needed.
Some company policies require that employees self-report any arrest that impacts their ability to perform their jobs.
Companies must be mindful of EEOC rules on the fair and proper use of criminal records to ensure the screening program is not discriminatory under Title XII. A domestic BMW plant learned this the hard way when its contractor screened incumbent employees and disqualified 100 workers based on criminal records found. It turned out that 80 of those workers were black, many of them long-term employees, and EEOC filed a discrimination complaint against the company that resulted in a $1.6 million settlement.
If there are unionized employees, those union contracts should also be reviewed before proposing a continuous screening policy.
Policies and procedure to follow if a record is found: Your employee manual needs to address what kinds of criminal offenses will trigger an employee security review, and what employer actions to expect if an incriminating record is found. At minimum, any action must be based upon some business justification, taking into account the nature and gravity of the offense, the nature of the job, and how long ago it occurred.
The question of an employer’s duty to assure a safe workplace and the role of continuous employee screening in meeting that standard may well be decided in the courts in future years. In the meantime, employers contemplating continuous employee screening should consider using a professional background search firm to advise them and manage the operation.
The best practice in any case is to to work with a screening partner who understands all of the pros and cons and can help you make an informed decision. Be wary of all the pitfalls in setting up the program, and avoid providers that simply want to sell you more searches.