Re-thinking Pre-Employment Screenings

I recently attended the first Reentry Leader Conference held in Birmingham along with Mary Ila and Emily. It was a great opportunity to hear from leaders around the state on what employers can do to help those who are justice involved become gainfully employed. As part of the conference, we heard success stories from employers who had programs to employ those coming out of the system.

As employers struggle to find talent due to the extremely low unemployment rate, as Governor Ivey stated last week, we need to move to focus attention on the labor participation rate and getting people into the workforce who currently are not. Those who are justice involved make up a large percentage of those individuals.

So I challenge organizations to rethink their use of background checks. I have worked with many clients who don’t fully know why they use background checks and worse yet, don’t have a definitive answer as to what disqualifies a candidate. So how can your organization rethink this and become a second chance employer?

  1. Ask yourself why you use background checks. The first question I ask clients is WHY. Why do they use background checks in their pre-hire process. Is there a business need to conduct background checks, are they in an industry where hiring someone with a criminal history could put clients at risk (i.e. healthcare), is it due to contract requirements or security clearances, or is there some other business reason that justifies the need.
  2. If you need to run background checks, what disqualifies a candidate? The first part of this question is how long should your lookback be? This will be dependent on why you need to run background checks, but you need to establish a reasonable lookback period based on those business needs. The second part of this is creating a list of what types of offenses will disqualify a candidate and what’s the justification for adding that offense to the list. For example, any type of violent offense may be justifiable, but past drug offenses may not be.
  3. Consider what positions you run background checks on. Keep in mind that if you need to run background checks for a justifiable business need, you do not have to run them on all new hires. You can run them only on positions that meet that justifiable business need as long as you are able to justify that decision and that you are consistent in running them regardless of the candidate.
  4. Reevaluate. Reevaluate your process every three to five years or as your business needs change.

I also challenge you to use the steps outlined above to rethink your drug testing policy. If you currently run drug tests pre-employment, ask yourself what the business justification is for that, as well as if you still include marijuana in the results. I have worked with many clients over the last few years who have rethought their need to run pre-employment drug tests. If you are in a safety sensitive industry, you should still be conducting pre-employment drug screens. But if you’re not in a safety sensitive industry, ask yourself why you need to run them, why you care if employees are engaging in drug use on their own time as long as they are not coming to work under the influence.

How many candidates could you have hired in the last year if your background and drug testing policies were adjusted to reflect your true business needs?


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Lorrie Coffey