7. Background Checks

Background checks can be a useful tool, but they can also cause major headaches for employers, and subject them to lawsuits. One area of concern is the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Many employers have used the same FCRA forms for years, although the requirements may have changed, rendering the old forms obsolete.  Now is a good time to review your forms to ensure FCRA compliance.  Some employers have modified the forms by adding or deleting language.  I recommend that the disclosures be separate documents signed by the applicant/employee during the application/hiring process, and the forms not be modified by adding or deleting any language contained in the standard FCRA disclosure form.

Many of my clients run credit checks for their employees.  One of the first questions I ask is what is the business purpose for doing so?  If the individual is not handling money, or will not be in a position to take valuable company property, is running a credit check necessary?  Even if an employee is in a position to steal money or other company property, if there are security measures in place, such as surveillance cameras, is a credit check warranted?

Another issue concerning background checks is when is the proper time to run it?  The background check should be run after a conditional job offer is made.  If the background check, which may include a credit check, is the reason for not hiring, the candidate must be told that the conditional job offer is revoked because of the results.

Over the past several years, the EEOC has been pursuing discrimination claims based on the use of background checks, and in 2012 issued specific enforcement guidance regarding the use of criminal background check information.  The EEOC has argued that criminal convictions have a disparate impact on minorities and thus exclude and/or cause discrimination against minorities when applying for jobs.  Conducting criminal background checks should only be done if it is related to the essential functions of the job of the individual being checked.

8. Workplace Violence

Over the past six months, workplace violence has made news around the world.  From Oklahoma, where a woman was beheaded, to Paris where numerous people were murdered when a newspaper was attacked, to Birmingham where a fired UPS worker killed 2 co-workers at the UPS facility, workplace violence continues to occur.  What can employers do to keep their workers and customers safe?  Although it is impossible to prevent all workplace violence, employers and employees should be proactive in taking steps to prevent or minimize the impact of workplace violence.  These steps include:

Implement a No Violence Policy and Plan. As with other workplace policies, having a No Violence policy, which defines workplace violence and how it should be dealt with, is important.  Employees should be educated and trained on the plan, and they should know how to react should there be a violent situation.  The policy and plan should include identifying who should contact authorities, how to contact authorities, safe places, evacuation procedures and media relations. Perform Safety Drills. When I was growing up, my grade school and high school had regular fire drills.  Likewise, employers should have regular drills recreating potentially violent situations and make sure all employees know how to react in the event such a situation actually occurs.  Each business is different and has different security needs. Consult Experts. Security companies and even local police departments are able and willing to evaluate your workplace to determine what preventative measures best works for you.  Warning signs, security cameras, security guards, and restricted access are some of the steps that can be taken. Train Your Employees. Employees should be educated as to the signs of potential violent behavior from co-workers.  Employees should be trained to pay attention to suspicious behavior, strangers who look out of place, or any kind of verbal or physical threat.  Employees should be encouraged to inquire about suspicious behavior or report it to the appropriate person at the company.

Practice Pointer:  Workplace violence needs to be taken into consideration in policies, as well as the training of the workforce.  Proper planning can save lives and minimize the potential damage should such a tragedy occur at your workplace.