AKRON (Dec. 9, 2002)—Doing background checks on prospective new hires is both legal and sensible, sources told Tire Business.
I´m revisiting this topic because a suggestion I made in my Sept. 30 TB column apparently raised questions in some readers´ minds.
In that issue I urged tire dealers to do background checks of some kind on prospective new employees to avoid unpleasant surprises later on. Some bosses have had the unpleasant experience of watching the police ``relieve´´ an employee of his or her duties unexpectedly. The worker-who appeared to be neat, polite and capable during the job interview-turns out to be a fugitive from the law or possibly a suspect in a local sex-crime incident.
The bottom line is that your dealership or service shop could end up on the evening news for all the wrong reasons if police nab a very evil individual at your business.
Recently, reader Richard Yontz, the commercial operations manager at Ted Wiens Tire & Auto Centers, Las Vegas, challenged my recommendation. He stated that the U.S. Department of Justice classifies criminal histories as restricted information. He also argued that it´s impractical to ask police to perform such checks. Let me respectfully respond here.
I talked to both a federal judge as well as a local police chief about Mr. Yontz´s statements. Both the judge and the chief reinforced what I had been taught years ago: Criminal records are basically public records.
Occasionally a convicted person´s lawyer can convince a judge to expunge his or her records-that is, seal the records from public scrutiny. However, sources agreed that successful requests to expunge records are relatively rare occurrences.
Look around you, readers. If criminal records were restricted information, how could the local newspaper run a section called Crime Report, Police Blotter etc.? How could local television and radio stations report-often in excruciating detail-on arrests and convictions the way they do? The media may choose not to mention names in their coverage-almost always in the case of juveniles, for example-but that is up to their discretion, sources said.
What´s more, the electronic age is making it even easier to check criminal records. The county in which I live posts a Web site with the names and addresses of convicted sex-crimes offenders. In a town north of us, you can go to a municipal Web site, enter a name and do a search for criminal convictions!
So unless there´s some unusual legislation in your town to the contrary, arrests and/or convictions are matters of public record. In fact, the police chief told me that some people simply source the records from the local municipal court.
In the real world, sources said, some police departments´ records will be more current than others will. And some police personnel will be more cooperative than others when you make inquiries. Typically, they´ll request the prospective employee´s name, address and driver´s license number. When they´re busy, you may have to try a second or third time to get the information you want.
If this prospective new hire was arrested and/or convicted outside of the local jurisdiction, the local police won´t have any record of it. Of course, you can contact the police in the last town where this job applicant lived. The fact that the person´s never been arrested doesn´t automatically mean he´s a choirboy. But a criminal check is a solid start.
However, sources emphasized that in real life, to cite Mr. Yontz´s own words, solid references from multiple, reliable sources usually are your best defense against a hiring blunder. The background checks become substantially more important when, for example, the applicant is an out-of-towner with poor references or no references at all.
Plus, listen carefully to how the references communicate to you. Hesitance or reluctance to talk about the applicant should raise red flags. Guarded or carefully qualified remarks from a previous employer should also make you wary.
Everywhere I travel, bosses complain that good help is hard to find. Therefore, thorough, effective interviewing skills on your part and strong references on the applicant´s part are more vital than ever. If a hiring backfires on you and your dealership because you did a poor job of screening the applicant, blame yourself.
Good luck to you all in your searches for good workers.