Rolling Background Checks Are Rising

The concept of checking up on current workers is starting to gain traction, particularly in manufacturing and retail.
By: | July 24, 2018 • 3 min read

U.S. employers considering a move to “rolling” or continuous background checks may have a good reasons, but they should proceed with caution. While background checks had primarily been used for pre-employment screening, the idea of checking up on current workers is starting to gain traction, perhaps somewhat fueled by the growing #MeToo movement.

Bloomberg reports that that while data on employers who constantly monitor employees doesn’t yet exist, the screen business is booming. For example, Bloomberg cites membership in the National Association of Professional Background Screeners has shot up from 195 in 2003 to 917 in 2017.

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The trick for rolling background checks, according to Bloomberg, is balancing privacy concerns with rooting out employees who could “steal, harass or even commit violent acts in the workplace.” The article cites high-profile incidents, including a recent case where an Uber Eats driver in Atlanta allegedly shot and killed a customer earlier this year.

Tim Gordon, senior vice president of background-screening company InfoMart Inc., told Bloomberg that the practice is not new in healthcare and financial services, but it’s happening more often in other sectors, especially manufacturing and retail.

According to Bloomberg, employment lawyers and worker advocates say employers should step lightly due to the potential for erroneous information becoming part of periodic checks. Also, previous crimes don’t always predict future bad behavior, the article notes.

“If you’re doing continuous monitoring and you’re putting all this information in the hands of some HR person who doesn’t know where it came from, hasn’t been trained on what it means, they just see some scary words on a piece of paper that can have life-altering consequences for people for no good reason,” Michelle Drake, who leads the credit reporting and background checks practice at the Philadelphia-based law firm Berger & Montague PC, told Bloomberg.

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Jonathan Segal, managing principal at the Duane Morris Institute, the education unit of the employment group that provides training to HR executives and in-house counsel, told Bloomberg that the situation is “a bit of a Catch-22” in that “there are legal risks in doing background checks, but there also can be negligent-hire risks in not doing them.”

Most employers look at a balance, Segal said, “and they need to figure out where the balance is. Theoretically you could be checking every employee every week, and still miss something.”

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]