Failing to Conduct Criminal Background Checks Is Asking for Trouble

Don Tennant

Last month, I wrote a post about how essential it is to have some means of detecting deception in your IT organization, especially in view of the fact that your organization holds the keys to the company’s vital information assets. Equally essential is having some means of preventing untrustworthy individuals from gaining access to your IT organization in the first place. Criminal background checks on job candidates are conducted as a matter of course for that very reason, right? Well, don’t be so sure.

My key takeaway from a survey conducted this summer by the Society for Human Resource Management was that criminal background checks aren’t conducted nearly as often by employers in the hiring process as I would have expected. I kind of presumed that these checks are performed in just about all hiring situations as a simple matter of due diligence. Turns out that’s not the case at all.

According to the survey, less than 70 percent of organizations conduct criminal background investigations on all job candidates, and 14 percent of the rest never bother to conduct them at all. And those who do conduct them are more concerned about dodging the bullet of legal liability than that of crimes perpetrated by employees: Fifty-two percent of organizations conduct criminal background investigations as a means of reducing legal liability for negligent hiring, while only 36 percent conduct them to reduce or prevent criminal activity.

Don’t misunderstand — I’m not suggesting for a moment that a person who has a criminal record is necessarily unworthy for consideration for a job in an IT shop. I’m very much aware that good people do stupid things, that second chances are a requisite in life, and that if everyone who goofed up got caught, we’d have a whole lot more people with criminal records than we do now.

But I would suggest that not conducting a criminal background check as a matter of course when hiring any employee is foolish. Without it, there’s a blind spot in the job candidate evaluation process that increases the risk of serious damage to the company and its assets down the line.

Here’s an encapsulation of some of the key findings of the SHRM survey:

Does your organization, or an agency hired by your organization, conduct criminal background checks for any job candidates?

All job candidates (69 percent)

Select job candidates (18 percent)


No job candidates (14 percent)

When does your organization, or any agency hired by your organization, initiate criminal background checks on job candidates?

After a contingent job offer (62 percent)

After the job interview, but before a job offer (32 percent)

After the completion of a job application, but before the job interview (4 percent)

Varies by job level (1 percent)

Other (1 percent)

What are the primary reasons your organization conducts criminal background checks on job candidates?

To reduce legal liability for negligent hiring (52 percent)

To ensure a safe work environment for employees (49 percent)

To reduce/prevent theft and embezzlement, other criminal activity (36 percent)

To comply with applicable state law requiring a background check for a particular position (28 percent)

To assess the overall trustworthiness of the job candidate (17 percent)

Other (5 percent)

(Percentages do not equal 100 percent due to multiple response options.)

When conducting a criminal background check on job candidates, how influential is/would be the discovery of each of the following in your decision NOT to extend a job offer?

Convicted violent felony (96 percent)

Convicted nonviolent felony (74 percent)

Convicted violent misdemeanor (60 percent)

Convicted nonviolent misdemeanor (26 percent)

When conducting a criminal background check on job candidates, how influential are/would be the following factors related to a criminal activity (regardless of whether they resulted in conviction) in your decision NOT to extend a job offer?

The severity of the criminal activity (84 percent)

The number of convictions (76 percent)

The relevance of the criminal activity to the position applied for (69 percent)

The length of time since the criminal activity (51 percent)

The age of the job candidate since the criminal activity occurred (37 percent)

Does your organization allow job candidates, in certain circumstances, the opportunity to explain the results of their criminal background check that might have an adverse effect on an employment decision?

Yes, after the criminal background check is conducted, but before the decision to hire or not hire is made (58 percent)

Yes, after the decision to hire or not hire has been made (27 percent)

No, not at any time (15 percent)



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 24, 2012 11:23 AM Dan C Dan C  says:
Interesting to read your well-thought out article and these statistics are amazing. But I suppose I can understand that it is one more thing that the company has to do in order to hire someone - so often the background check gets overlooked. The stats that you shared about why the company does the background check were also interesting. But your advice on preventing the blind spot by ordering the background check is a great suggestion. Our company offers these background checks hopefully taking the load off the HR departments or businesses. Reply
Aug 26, 2013 11:07 PM Mickey Mixon Mickey Mixon  says:
It is good to really apply criminal check to every new person in the company to really be safe and be secure. Reply
Feb 14, 2014 11:19 AM CJ CJ  says:
I would just like to enlighten people, if I may. Most of the shooters, we hear about in the news today, do NOT- and did NOT- have a prior criminal history! So what you are doing sir, if I might be blunt, is contributing to an ever-increasing feeling of paranoia in this country. If you think that, by virtue of a criminal background check- or witch hunt- you are going to keep the 'protected class'...'protected', let me be the first to disillusion you- that's not really what you're doing. But what you are doing, whether you realize it or not, is creating a wedge/gap in the economic classes and more distrust and fear of people; that in most cases, is unwarranted. Reply

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