Criminal Searches Uncovered, Part 2: Is Your Current Criminal Background Check Process Enough to Protect You Long-Term?
In the previous installment of Criminal Searches Uncovered we discussed what can be referred to as Criminal Searches 101, or Basics. We shared the different types of searches that exist, various methods used to perform searches, and that age-old and ever-important topic, how long do searches take to complete. For today’s edition, however, we aim to take a deeper dive, going to a dark and scary place for some, although we’re well past Halloween, aren’t we?
Let’s talk about how you protect your workplace, your patients, and your reputation. We’ve all seen the news headlines – they grab you. They aim to frighten and conjure up the worst visions, things that you’d only think about in a movie. Cue the anchorman or anchorwoman saying “at the top of the broadcast tonight, a local hospital is facing claims that one of their employees was inappropriate with a patient…” And the PR nightmare begins. The staff is looking at each other differently, outpatient procedures drop, recruitment becomes harder for those positions that are open, and inquiries come in from every angle. The question everyone (patients, staff, community, perhaps even yourself) wants to know is “how safe are we?”
One might ask, “how could this happen to us?” After all, you are a leading employer and provider of healthcare in your area. You go to great lengths to qualify people at time of hire, ensuring you hire the best. You’ve probably focused on improving your onboarding timelines while improving quality in the last year, and made strides (congratulations, by the way). You have a unique culture and an inspiration mission, people are proud to say they work at Hospital XYZ. So how could this happen to any employer?
Consider the nature of a criminal search result again. We know that a result is only as good as the moment it’s obtained. Allow us to pose four scenarios to you, with the reminder that we all enjoy the right of being presumed innocent until we are found guilty:
- A person who has a clean record may never be found guilty of a crime in the future.
- A person who has a clean record may be found guilty of a crime in the future.
- A person who has been found guilty of a crime may never commit another crime in the future.
- A person who has been found guilty of a crime may be found guilty of a crime in the future.
These are all possible, aren’t they? Which of these pose the most potential risk to your workplace? That depends on your facility and your hiring policies, which certainly you apply within compliance of your legal obligations as an employer. We’re willing to bet though, that it is number two and number four that make you the most uneasy.
Consider a recent article in Minneapolis’ Star Tribune, regarding up to 107 nurses in the state of Minnesota who would be barred from providing care to patients after the state realized they had criminal records disqualifying them from doing so. The real kicker was the DHS Inspector General’s acknowledgement that they knew the current notification system was “not adequate.” In a quote from the Star Tribune, Inspector General Jerry Kerber states “there are people on whom we did a background study, and who later offended, and we didn’t know about it, because we didn’t repeat a background study, and some of those offenses are even in the serious categories of [criminal sexual conduct].”
There you have it. No repeat background check, so how can you ensure that the results from time of hire and that qualified an applicant still stand? Do you have an obligation to check again? If so, how soon? How often? What this case and those afore-mentioned news stories teach us is that while pre-employment background checks are here to stay, they’re a no-brainer, a must, employers can and do still leave themselves vulnerable if that’s the end of the investigation throughout someone’s time of hire.
The frequency and timing for repeat background checks depend on many variables, and each employer may be different. Budget concerns need not necessarily lead you to premature conclusions that such measures aren’t for you, either. The definition of diligence after-hire doesn’t necessarily have to match that of your time-of-hire background check. It may not be necessary to revisit all those stones you previously unturned. Some employers may wish to look to residential county criminal searches along with statewide searches in the home state, to offer them some assurance of finding any new information that may have arisen since hire. One could also supplement those searches with a national criminal database search to potentially find “Vacation” or “Spring Break” crimes. Of course any possible hits on a national database search must be confirmed by running a county level search to ensure accuracy. Additionally, either of these combinations should include a National Sex Offender Registry search.
These combinations can be done inexpensively on a yearly basis, or even a biannual basis, giving you peace of mind that you are a conscientious employer with progressive measures in place to ensure safety within your organization. Keep in mind, what you don’t know is always much worse than what you do. Creating a standard in your organization for recurring criminal background screenings will not only set you apart as an employer who cares about their organization and their patients, but will help you to avoid risk on many levels.