Contributed by Harry Kazakian, President of USA Express Legal and Investigative Services and Kazakian, also a licensed private investigator, has provided investigations and background check services to hundreds of companies, and investigations training to The Automobile Club of Southern California’s employee investigators. His offices are in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. 

You may already use a service that background checks potential employees – but how thoroughly has your company checked out the background-check provider?

It’s estimated that about three of every four businesses perform background screenings on every prospective employee. These background checks typically include an applicant’s work and credit histories, driving record, education, professional licenses and certifications, criminal record, drug screening and use of social media.

But too frequently, business owners fail to ask enough questions of the company providing their background checks. Some of these companies have reduced staff and send the bulk of their verification services overseas, where the process likely is streamlined in a somewhat cursory fashion.

Service providers unfamiliar with the way U.S. courts work perform the equivalent of just pushing a few buttons to see if someone has a criminal record in a national database. However, many more crimes are prosecuted in local districts or superior courts. So, if that attendant you want to hire for, say, an elder care position has no criminal record in the national database, they’ll likely pass the background check, despite having a record of assaults or substance abuse in state or lower courts.

How easy is it for someone to game the system with this kind of background check? Very. It’s an open secret among those trying to slip through the net to simply provide a different birth date with your name on the application, and the background check will come back clear.

Just look at the serious lawsuits against app-based matchmaking businesses that fail to live up to the implied promises they make of doing thorough background checks: ride-hailing services, dog-sitting apps, handyman finders. was the subject of a Wall Street Journal investigation that found “approved” caregivers with criminal histories molested, assaulted or even murdered people they were caring for, and subsequently, the company removed thousands of individuals claiming to be state-licensed childcare providers who were not.

These background check farms can also spur lawsuits from the simplest errors: The John Smith you rejected because of his criminal record may not be the John Smith you were considering for a position. Database searches cannot confirm conviction data with the original court; that requires a professional, not an algorithm.

Once a candidate signs a pre-employment authorization, everything on their resume is allowed to be verified. A pre-employment screening should always include criminal records, employment history, education history; consumer credit reports, Social Security fraud check, motor vehicle records and professional licenses and certifications.

It cannot be overemphasized that you should also verify that your employees have maintained industry-specific licenses and certifications. States regularly require background checks before issuing a license, say, to an elder-care worker. But afterward, it’s up to the employer to make sure the employee maintains the license. Sometimes when something goes south, the first thing attorneys will do is look into the person’s background, and if something is amiss, the employer is on the hook.
In the long run, it’s better to know what your employees are up to. You need to inform them ahead of time, however, that you will be conducting a brief background screening every year, including a check on court proceedings and their driving record.

Bear in mind that there are also several no-go areas for employers who conduct their own in-house background checks.

So-called Ban the Box laws have been implemented in many states. These laws regulate what employers can ask prospective employees and when employers can ask about prospective employees’ criminal history, and they limit how far back in someone’s criminal history an employer can ask questions about. In California, for instance, employers are limited to seven years.

An employment screening company can let an employer know if there are older public records of felonies. They cannot provide the record but can provide a case number. Misdemeanors older than seven years are absolute no-go areas, as are arrests for cannabis possession or use. Civil matters, such as no-contact orders or temporary restraining orders, are OK to disclose.

Background check companies are not allowed to report if someone has ever filed a worker’s compensation case against a prior employer. In California and other states, employers can just go online to the state’s website and look up that information for themselves.

I recommend staying away from pre-employment screening located outside the United States simply because they do not have the same capabilities as U.S. companies to properly and accurately identify all reportable items to the employer. The short-term cost savings are not worth the price of long-term consequences from an inferior report.

Hiring a new employee can be thrilling. Just make sure you’re signing up for the right kind of excitement.