School District’s Background Check Takes a Shot

The parents in the group might need to sit down for this story. . .

In a bizarre and frightening incident, a middle school girls’ softball coach at the Seaford School District apparently injected one of the girls on his team with an adrenaline-filled Epi Pen–not to save her life by combating an allergic reaction-but apparently in retaliation for lackadaisical play on the field.

The girl’s family is now suing the school district for failing to properly and thoroughly verify the coach’s background.

Hiring is one of the most important decisions any employer can make. A failure to carefully screen employees can not only result in adding underperformers to your workforce, it can result in exposure to theft, violence, and legal liability.

This recent incident in Seaford underscores the importance of a thorough and productive background check. But how do you get real, useful information in a world where many employers are advised to divulge only “name, rank, and serial number” of their former employees?

Tips for Conducting An Effective Background Check:

1. Get a release – the best way is to reduce the fear of a lawsuit. Get a release of liability from the applicant whose references you are checking, and provide it to the employer. Common sense dictates that the chance of a lawsuit will be substantially reduced when the potential plaintiff has already authorized the release and discussion of employment-related information.

2. Inform of Delaware’s reference check law – you should also tell your contacts about Delaware’s reference check law, which gives former, current, and prospective employers immunity from a lawsuit for providing references in “good faith.” Better yet, give them a copy of the law to review and provide to their legal counsel.

3. Say the password – most experienced HR professionals you contact will be just as frustrated as you are about the inability to get information about prospective employees. As a result, you might want to give them the opportunity to help you out and still sleep at night. Try asking whether the applicant is “eligible for rehire.” A negative answer might be just what you need to steer clear of an individual.

4. Find a secret source – another way to get information is to go directly to the applicant’s supervisor. That person will have the most information and will be more likely to provide it than the HR department. Of course, you want to prevent such a maneuver against your company, so make sure you constantly remind your own supervisors about your policies on background checks and that all inquiries should go through HR.

5. Go public – your high-school principal was right when he warned you that your youthful transgressions would be “on your permanent record.” Criminal arrest and conviction records are a matter of public record. They are not only public but also easy to get, at least for offenses committed in Delaware. A visit to the prothonotary (clerk) in the state courthouse located in Wilmington, Dover, or Georgetown can get you free access to an applicant’s arrest and conviction record free of charge.

6. Visit cyberspace – another source of information is the Internet. Search engines like Google can scour the Internet for websites, newspaper articles, and postings by applicants. Similar checks on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook can provide useful information as well. Use of such searches is becoming common. A 2006 survey by indicated that 26 percent of hiring managers have used the Internet to collect information on applicants. Half of those managers said they had accessed personal information on social networking sites.