Over the last 12-18 months we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of background screening projects brought forward by our clients. A background screening project is usually a request to complete background checks on a group of employees or volunteers. Typically, a smaller group would consist of 20-30 employees, while larger groups may involve 100 or more. They usually come with a timeline, may or may not utilize an existing package or protocols, and are in concert with some type of business transaction, such as a client engagement, where the client is requesting a check on all employees who “touch” the project.
Because of the volume of these projects, the involvement of employees rather than candidates, and the overall coordination required to manage these requests, there are a number of important details that employers should know in order to navigate successful background screening batch order requests.
First, find out what you need to do, or need us to do. Often times, your clients will provide a list of very specific services and search protocols that are quite easy to work from. Using their specs, we can create a specific package to ensure your process matches your client’s requirements. In our industry, we don’t like to guess, so if our client doesn’t obtain the specifics, we’ll ask them to go back to their client to gather the key details of the service requirements.
Along with the service requirements, it’s important to know your timeline. Typically, there is a little more flexibility in which to complete these checks, which is good, because batch orders typically take longer than your standard pre-employment background check to complete. Why? Mainly because background screening companies are staffed to handle the average daily flow of background check requests, and batch orders obviously impact the average volume. If you catch your screening provider in the middle of a busy month where their clients are all fighting for the best possible turnaround, you may receive a response from your account manager such as, “we will do our very best to fit this project into our workflow.” Translation – pre-employment checks come first, as they should. Usually, as long as the entire batch is complete in a reasonable amount of time, there are no concerns or problems. The key is to communicate with your screening provider and approach the project with realistic turnaround time expectations.
The next order of business is obtaining consent. As a best practice, and one that has the confidence and support of most attorneys, ALWAYS obtaining consent EVERY TIME you run a background check is recommended. In fact, there are certain jurisdictions (e.g., California), where “evergreen” consent doesn’t apply – you must obtain consent with every background check request. With that being said, most background check consent forms contain language authorizing the employer to conduct a background not only at the time the form is signed, but anytime during the person’s employment, thus, covering the consent form requirement for any subsequent background checks. While this might work for many employers, it is not the most conservative approach, and still does not apply to employees who live or work in jurisdictions where evergreen consent is prohibited by law. What’s more, it is also most likely that your employee population hasn’t signed the same consent form. If you’ve changed screening providers or recently started doing background checks and didn’t in the past, technically, you haven’t obtained consent to have your current background screening provider run the current background check. With all of these compliance angles in play, it’s probably best to seek the guidance of your internal or external counsel in order to make the best decision regarding your consent form intentions.
A close relative of the consent form dynamics is the communication element of the process. While it’s assumed that some level of employee communication is needed, from our experience, we recommend ensuring the following areas are included:
- Explain the “why” and the process. For example, “This is in relation to our work on the XYZ client account. A background check is required for all employees working on their account. The check will include a basic criminal background check of all locations you’ve lived in the last 7 years.” Sometimes mentioning what is NOT included may also be helpful. Some people freak out thinking a credit report is part of the background check. Make sure they understand the nature and scope of the background check. List what is included.
- If you are requiring consent, please note that most consent forms will contain language indicating the check is “part of their employment,” or “in connection with the employment opportunity they are seeking.” You have two options here. One is to contact your background screening provider and request to alter the language (if using an electronic consent form process). If using paper forms, edits can be easily completed. The other option is inform your employees that “…we are using boiler plate forms from our provider to obtain your consent. While these forms allude to this being for an employment opportunity, we would like to confirm this is solely in connection with our contract requirements for XYZ client account.” Your employees will appreciate having a better understanding of the wording.
- Provide information on your background screening provider. Give them the history of the relationship, let them know their information is secure, share that your partner is an accredited background screening company (if applicable), and any other details about their process and/or platform that will provide reassurance to your employees.
- If you are obtaining electronic consent via email, let your employees know the sender and instruct them to check their spam/junk folder if they don’t receive it by the target date. You might also consider alerting your IT department, to ensure the emails come through without issue.
- Provide a target date. Again, if you are obtaining electronic consent, let the group know when they can expect to receive the email. A more informed group leads to a more responsive group and helps reduce the maintenance related to employee follow up. Earlier we mentioned communicating the timeline to your screening partner; providing a timeline to your employees is also an important part of the project.
According to InCheck Director of Operations Rachel Theisen, “the best batch screening projects are the ones where thorough communication is sent to the employees and InCheck is kept in the loop with that communication.”
Now that you’ve successfully navigated the steps leading up to the project, you’re ready to press the go button and start the actual background checking process. You might be wondering, “Do I have to enter 100 individual background checks in the system?” The answer is no, unless you want to! Your background screening provider can easily provide you with an Excel template including labeled columns indicating the information you’ll need to enter for each person. Some will be prefilled, such as the package name and requester. Once the spreadsheet is ready and you send it back to your screening provider, they will upload it, which instantly creates individual reports for each person listed on the Excel file. Because the completion of the spreadsheet is the final step before the background check process begins, make sure the timing aligns with anything previously mentioned to employees. Provide an update if the timeline has changed.
The final piece to consider is the adverse action process. Yes, it still applies to background checks on current staff, even if the information is used solely to disqualify someone from working on a particular client project. Of course, if a major red flag is identified on someone’s background check that may carry implications tied to their continued employment at your company, contact your attorney for guidance immediately.
As you can see, project-based background checks require tending to a number of important details to ensure a successful process. Remember, once that batch order is sent to your employees, the project is live and you will most likely receive questions. The more thorough you are on the front end, the easier and less frequent those questions will be. Try to give yourself as much time as possible to get out in front of the process. Rushed batch orders are more susceptible to errors. Contacting your screening partner proactively and creating a checklist are excellent ways to begin a project-based background check process.
Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.