DennisBeaverJune 8, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

Last week we told you about the surprise awaiting church members when their newly hired pastor gave his first sermon.

“It wasn’t just that it lasted over two hours and the guy could not stop talking, or that he screamed at any church employee with even a slightly different opinion than his. But learning he had done time for embezzlement, writing bad checks and spousal abuse — that’s what did it!” wrote church elder Mack.

“But none of this — in addition to him and his wife being sued all over the country — none of this showed up with the online background search we did on him. For $20, the website promised to find out anything bad on anyone, and claimed to use ‘reliable nationwide databases, ideal for a pre-employment background check, providing results in just a few hours.’”

When a private investigator was hired — and paid $150 — to do a real background search, the true picture of their new pastor emerged, requiring four days to obtain that information.

“I thought that we have an inter-connected world, with data about everyone accessible at the push of a button. How could these results be so different?” our reader asked.

There is no central criminal record database

“You cannot rely on online data alone to present a complete picture,” private investigator Jane Parker tells You and the Law. As research administrator for Southern California based Pre-Employment Profiles, her company is often contacted in situations where an online background search has been conducted, the applicant hired, “and then things just do not add up.”

“Some web-based background research companies advertise ‘We check nationwide criminal files.’ But there’s a problem with that statement,” she stated.

“There is no such thing! A nationwide central database containing up-to-date records regarding a person’s criminal history does not exist. Especially in California, there is a mountain of information that never gets reported to the commonly accessed databases used by both law enforcement and background search companies.

“Of the 58 counties in California, less than half make their criminal records available to online data providers. So, depending upon the county where the activity took place, someone could have been in and out of jail their entire life, yet would look clean on many web based searches.

“Across the country, less than 40 percent of courts file reports with the major databases. That is scary, resulting in people getting jobs where they do not belong. As an example, consider this case:

“After consuming his daily two bottles of vodka, Jim beats the living daylights out of his wife, is arrested, but as sadly happens way too often, the D.A. drops the case at her tearful request and Gentle Jim returns home. An online criminal records check reveals no reportable criminal convictions; therefore Jim gets hired to work as a clerk at a liquor store, and within a week on the job, goes ballistic, tossing bottles of his beverage of choice at a customer, who then files a suit against the employer, alleging negligent hiring.

“A thorough background check includes criminal and civil court records. Here it would have uncovered multiple restraining orders filed against Jim by other individuals who also experienced his uncontrolled temper.”

How to find a competent background screener

“Good background screening firms dig far deeper than any online-only company by sending researchers to the courts to discover additional and verify records found online. Credible services are being performed by state-licensed private investigators and specialty research firms, but you must ask if they follow state and federal requirements from an alphabet soup of agencies, including the EEOC, FCRA, and the NLRB.

“The National Association of Professional Background Screeners lists qualified companies across America, and their website has a great deal of useful information,” Parker notes.

“Any company promising to have the report done in a few hours is highly suspicious,” Parker warns, adding, “It can take several days.”

“Pre-employment screening requires very specific releases and notices for the applicant. A competent firm will provide these documents and train the employer to insure compliance with applicable state and federal regulations.

“The more information provided, the more accurate will be the results. This means full names, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, current and previous residences — just as much as possible,” Parker concluded.

In our view, a thorough background check is an investment — perhaps a day’s wages for that employee — just one day’s wages, keeping danger and dishonesty far away.

And should the “job” involve saying “I do,” then these wonderful words need to be stated twice — the first time to the background search company, when their representative asks, “Do you want us to do a background on your future spouse?”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.