Pubdate: Sun, 22 Aug 2010
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2010 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Joe Napsha, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Before Andrew Greene could qualify for a free training program to
learn basic manufacturing skills at Westmoreland County Community
College, he and a dozen other students had to undergo a drug test and
criminal background check.

Greene said he wasn't surprised and felt it was a good way of showing
prospective employers he is ready for work when he completes the
five-week program at the Youngwood school.

"That's kind of the point of this program," said Greene, 27, of

These days, a majority of employers is conducting similar screening
measures as part of their hiring process -- criminal background,
credit checks and drug screening -- to get an accurate picture of
their job finalists.

"The consequences of making the poor hiring decision are enormous,"
said Michael Aitken, spokesman at the Society for Human Resource
Management of Alexandria, Va., which has 250,000 members worldwide.

Seventy-three percent of employers conduct criminal background checks
on candidates for all jobs; 55 percent conduct drug screening; and 40
percent conduct credit checks, according to a survey conducted for the
society in November. Another 47 percent of employers conduct credit
checks on selected candidates, mainly those who would handle money.

Typically, employers are conducting tests on just the final candidates
for a position, because of the high cost of testing, particularly if
an outside screening company is hired to do the work, said Aitken.
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers must get
permission from a candidate to conduct a credit check, and employers
must make sure the tests are not being done in a discriminatory way,
Aitken said.

In the criminal background checks, employers are looking for a record
of a violent felony or a nonviolent felony, such as fraud or

"You want to have a safe work environment. Employers have a liability
not only to their customers, but to their employees as well. You're
trying to make sure you're not bringing someone into the worksite that
has a propensity for violence, or past history" of violence, Aitken

In the midst of a recession and higher unemployment, employers need to
scrutinize applications even more carefully, said Adrienne T. Taucher,
vice president of Corporate Investigations Inc. of Scott, a employment
screening company. .

"In better economic times, we see about a 20-22 percent inaccuracy
rate in the information provided on applications. However, in these
difficult economic times, we have seen up to a 30 percent inaccuracy
rate, as increased volumes of applicants are vying for fewer jobs.
This situation requires employers to be on the watch for fraudulent
credentials, such as inflated or fictional employment or education
history," Taucher said.

Employers have been increasing the use of screening measures in recent
years, human resource and staffing experts say.

"The benchmark was really 9/11. That's the kind of reference point,"
said Tracy Seabrook, executive director of the National Association of
Professional Background Screeners, said of increased concerns over
security and background checks after the terrorist attacks on Sept.
11, 2001.

Regulations put in place following 9/11 have placed a greater emphasis
on learning about the person a company wants to hire, said Ronald
Alvarado, president of Novus Staffing Solutions of Robinson.

"It's changed the way employment practices happen," he

Companies with federal contract or subcontracting with a government
contractor must check prospective employees through the a government
operated employment eligibility verification system, called E-Verify.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security
Administration determine if the person with that Social Security
number is eligible to work in the United States That helps determined
whether a job-seeker is in America illegally, and whether they are on
a terrorist watch list, Alvarado said.

"Once you do it for one candidate, you do it for all candidates ... to
make sure the social security number belongs to the person" applying
for a job, Alvarado said. "It's not expensive, but it's something you
want to do right," Alvarado said.

Workers involved in pipeline construction, plus those in a
construction office miles from the work site, are required to undergo
drug and alcohol screenings and random drug tests, according to the
Department of Transportation regulations. The agency issued
regulations governing tests for truck drivers for pipeline companies,
Alvarado said.

Before hiring an employee who would come into contact with children, a
candidate must undergo criminal background checks to determine if they
are on a national sex offender database, Alvarado said.

Some pre-employment background screening is conducted because the
consumer expects it, particularly from those service industries that
send employees into homes, said Seabrook said, whose 700-member group
is based in Morrisville, N.C..

"They want to know whether or not (service personnel) have had
background checks," Seabrook said.

Employers have typically said they need to screen about double the
number of candidates in order to get a sufficient number of qualified
people to fill positions, said Terri Campbell, vice president of
operations for the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette
Inc., which operates training and employment programs.

Some employers have said that up to 50 percent of the job-seekers they
see can not pass a drug test, Campbell said.

"One of the biggest challenges employers will tell you is that they
are having a hard time finding people who show up for work and have a
clean record," said David Rea, organizational and development
consultant for Catalyst Connection, a South Oakland-based nonprofit
that provides consulting services to industries. 
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