HNI Senior Claims Consultant
Background investigations on prospective new hires are routine for many HR departments — it's just smart risk management. Some companies, however, feel checks are unnecessary or don't complete them due to the financial or administrative burden involved.
So why do a background check? They are both "due diligence" — especially for companies who have a high level of customer or patient interface — and a best practice. It's a scary to think how the wrong employee could undo decades of good work and good will.
Depending on the size of the business and the cost of the background investigation, some companies do their own checks, and others outsource. If your firm would like to keep these tasks in house, consider the following low-cost and easy-to-use tools for employee background checks. [I've listed two tools that work best for Wisconsin-based firms (home to HNI HQ) and one national tool. Similar resources exist in most other states, and we're happy to help you track those down if needed!]
1.) Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Page [Wisconsin only]
Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Page (aka CCAP): This is an open record source for Wisconsin only. This website shows the following violations: traffic, criminal traffic, criminal misdemeanors, criminal felonies, civil judgments, small claims, divorce/child custody/support, and paternity. You can search by name only, but CCAP narrows things down if you have a birth date or Social Security number.
2.) Wisconsin Department of Justice [Wisconsin only]
Wisconsin Criminal History Background Check: Employers also can gain background check information through the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Employers are charged for records, and they need to complete an application for access to this service. Criminal history requests from a general public entity (in other words, any for-profit business) are $12 each. (Daycare-related requests are subject to an additional $3 fee.) for The fee for an Internet request for information is $7. Wisconsin's Department of Justice provides a PDF guide on how to interpret a background investigation.
3.) LexisNexis Top Candidate [Anyone, anywhere]
LexisNexis Top Candidate: LexisNexis, the massive document and public records database, offers a background verification service. There are different check levels. Some packages include identity verification, national criminal record check, education verification, and employment verification. Fees start at $10. LexisNexis is not limited to employers in Wisconsin; because it is an online tool, it's available for employers everywhere.
Use the Information You Gather Wisely
If information uncovered during a background check is used to disqualify a candidate, it must be related to essential function of the job they're being considered for. For example, learning through the Wisconsin CCAP that a person has been divorced would not be reason to rule an applicant out. Running a credit report would be fair for a position in the finance department who is charged with handling company money, but it would not be relevant for a driving position or a factory position.
If you do decide to begin running background checks, it's best to establish company-wide procedures for doing so and apply them across the board. Doing one-off or sporadic checks can open your company up to allegations of discrimination.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
As a side note — it is always important to remember that an individual is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. Pending charges are merely allegations, and an individual can be found not guilty or be acquitted.
As was mentioned earlier, it's important to note that two of these sources pull information from Wisconsin only. If the individual has lived in multiple states, the search will not reflect that. Keep in mind any state laws related to discrimination based on criminal history as well.
How to Find Records in Other States
Every state has its own department governing its records. In Wisconsin, it's the Department of Justice. It could be under a different department name in a different state.
If a job applicant discloses that he lived and worked outside Wisconsin, the Wisconsin employer would have to go to the state-specific resource to run background investigations for other states. The FBI provides a list of bureaus in other U.S. states and territories that conduct criminal history summary checks.
What are your tried-and-true tools for background checks? How do you stay compliant with hiring laws? Please share below in comments.