Contractor Background Check Program: Best Practices You Should Be Following
Background Screening |December 2, 2020
Hiring an employee is not the same as engaging a contractor through a regional or national service network.
The supervision, direct relationship, and other requirements that exist in an employment relationship are not present when your organization uses a service network to deliver services or products to your consumers.
So, why would the contractor background check practices be the same? They are not.
For clarity, the term “contractor” refers to any individual that is not directly employed by your organization but undertakes a contract to complete a service or job for you. These best practices are designed to guide organizations that engage full-service networks, versus the common gig economy reference to contractors who would be engaged by another individual directly.
In most service contract relationships, your organization will never have direct contact with the contractor doing the work on your behalf. Your organization is focused on risk mitigation and ensuring no contractor will do operational or reputational damage and for this reason, most of your interest will be on safety. For this reason, identity verification is a key component to any program as are the specific background searches conducted and how individuals are monitoring once in your service network, and below we review each of these in turn.
Properly verify the person’s identity for accurate contractor background check results
To ensure a complete and useful contractor background check, the personal identifiers of the individual being screened must be accurate. This means any name(s), date of birth (DOB), Social Security Number (SSN), and address information needs to be correct and thorough. Each background search should contain a Person/Identity Search, once called an SSN Trace.
This search is used to verify the identity of an individual by searching hundreds of sources including credit bureau header information, USPS address forwarding details, utility bill records, voter registration data, licensing and registration data, and various repositories of information. The search returns all associated names, DOB, and address history details for the individual which are then used as pointers for additional searches conducted. It also determines if an SSN is included on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File and therefore invalid, when and during what year(s) the SSN was issued. This is important to confirm the date of birth and geographic location of the individual. Ensuring honesty in this information sets a strong foundation upon which other searches can be conducted.
Importantly, the identity search will help verify that the names provided, known as given names, are accurate, and it may provide a middle name that can be used for a more thorough search. Additionally, other names the individual may have used, former names, other surnames, nick or preferred names, may also be identified. These can then be reviewed to determine if they should be included in the background search. Oftentimes, those with criminal records will use alternate names to reduce the chance of those records being identified so using all known names is very important. The DOB, used along with the name, is the single most helpful identifier, to locate possible records and any discrepancy in the DOB may exclude records that should be part of your search. Performing a criminal background check using incorrect or fraudulent information invalidates the entire criminal background check altogether.
Conduct Criminal and Driver Record Searches to understand if the individual poses a risk
Among the most common components of safety-focused background checks are criminal, sex offender, and driving records. These searches, which are conducted effectively will provide insight into the contractor’s background and suitability for eligibility in a service network. Ensuring that your customers are protected in their homes, workplaces, and communities, as well as protecting your reputation, relies on ensuring contractors are not posing a risk. Services of note are county criminal record check, federal criminal record check, a national criminal database search, and a sex offender registry search. If driving is required in their role, a driver record search should also be included. If the individual is a “helper” or will be working on the vehicle but not responsible for driving, this driving search is not as applicable. Let’s look more closely at the recommended scope for each of these search types and why they are considered best practices for a contractor background check.
County Criminal Record search uses the individual’s name(s), date of birth (DOB), and address information to determine county jurisdiction(s) to be searched. A typical search is for felony and misdemeanor criminal records conducted of readily available information at the predominantly used index held at the central court in the requested jurisdiction. A solid search should include jurisdictions covering at least seven years of residential address history. This is the most comprehensive criminal search type that can be conducted on an individual and is advised in every screening package.
Federal Criminal Record search also uses the individual’s name(s), DOB, and address information to determine federal jurisdiction(s) to be searched. Utilizing the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), an electronic access service, a search of felony and misdemeanors of ‘federal cases’ is conducted which may include securities, mail, and tax law violations, immigration, weapons, interstate drug crimes, civil rights violations, and civil cases filed at the federal level. This search is conducted in any one of the 94 federal districts and identifies cases heard in the US District Courts, US Bankruptcy Courts, and US Courts of Appeals. Since federal jurisdictions are much larger than counties and these types of records are less frequent, searching in at least the current residential jurisdiction is a good demonstration of due diligence.
National Criminal Database search is a broad search using the individual’s name and DOB performed against a large database of the available county and state criminal information, the state reported sex offender records as well as fugitive, Department of Corrections, US and international government databases covering numerous watches and sanctions listings. Records may be updated weekly, monthly, or on another timing schedule but vary from search to search. Since this is a database search, the standard process should only report information that has been verified against the source data to ensure the accuracy of the information before any possible records are reported. This search allows for a wider search to be conducted than just using residential address history information, however, it is not a replacement for county-level searches and is not to be mistaken for “national” in its scope as there are many gaps in coverage.
Sex Offender Registry search uses the individual’s name(s) to search against the US Department of Justice, National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). If a record is located, cross-references are made against criminal records and other database searches we have completed. Sex Offender Registry searches only report the subject’s registration as a Registered Sex Offender and may not contain the actual criminal conviction(s) which resulted in their inclusion on the registry. For individuals working without supervision, in customer homes, and off-premise situations, this is a very important search to consider.
Driving Record search uses the driver’s license number and state of issue to search the Department of Motor Vehicle (“DMV”) records for driving status and history. The individual’s name is also submitted but may not be required for the search. This search is helpful to determine the accuracy of the demographic information compared to the information maintained by the DMV including names, addresses, and reported date of birth, as available. The MVR report includes the class of the license, citation history, accident history, suspension information, license restrictions, and the current status of the driver’s license. Search scope is limited by the individual state DMV and is at least 3 years, depending on the state. The most relevant result for most customers is to determine if the individual has an active and valid license. The nuances of various traffic infractions are not generally as important but identification of a suspended, expired, revoked, or not verified license is more concerning.
Follow an appeal process to offer the individual being screened an opportunity to explain results before a decision is made
An addition to the background screening process that is quickly being embraced by the ban the box and fair chance movement, is the concept of an appeal. This step occurs after the contractor background check is completed and before a final decision is made on the findings, specifically when those findings may have an adverse impact on the individual. An adverse impact is an event like not being hired, not being deemed authorized to work on a contract or other restrictions on their final status with your organization. The appeal process is in addition to any prescribed requirement under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, (FCRA).
An appeal is an opportunity for the individual being screened to confirm the accuracy of the report contents and appeal for further consideration based on those findings. It offers the chance to provide additional information related to the matter at hand, most often a criminal history, and share extenuating circumstances for the issue, rehabilitation efforts since the issue, and/or other considerations that should be made before a final decision is arrived at. This is the chance for the individual to demonstrate why they should be considered for the role and deemed suitable for the opportunity. It also ensures that an individualized assessment is done specifically to that individual and their unique situation. It does not use a rigid process for making decisions but allows for some flexibility to accommodate various situations.
Continuous Criminal Monitoring after the initial background check
While a comprehensive contractor background check is valuable at the outset, and during regular intervals, of the engagement with an individual, continuous monitoring provides an ongoing method of ensuring risk is managed and reduced. Continuous monitoring is the ongoing process of reviewing criminal records on an individual that may flag internal threats and safety concerns. It is a helpful tool in a risk management strategy and will be best supported when used with a self-reporting policy, which encourages individuals to come forward with any relevant information that may impact contract program participation.
Using the individual’s name, date of birth, and SSN, where available, this service provides access to near-real-time data for United States (US) arrest, court, and booking records from county jails and Department of Corrections facilities across most of the US. While not nationwide coverage, sources cover most of the population and are a suitable search to identify potential behavior that may pose a risk to your business, customers, brand, customer loyalty, and reputation. Continuous monitoring will typically provide notice within 24 hours of the event. Incarceration and booking alerts provide a proactive tool and more timely information over a wider geographic area than a local level county record checkand serve to fill the gap between more thorough background screenings.
Sharing your organization’s expectations with your service network is not enough to ensure compliance with your requirements. The requirement for background checks should be documented and agreed to in every service contract for every provider in your network. A proper program will also include having your partner report compliance rates across the network, versus relying on a self-certification, which is common and demonstrates far less diligence. Throughout the evolution of the program, compliance rates should also increase, and this will demonstrate the commitment to compliance that is required across your whole network.
PlusOne Solutions has been an industry leader in the risk management field by specializing in compliance programs that meet the complex challenges of geographically dispersed contractors, vendors, and employee networks. PlusOne Solutions protects companies from possible financial, legal, and reputational risks associated with contractor and vendor relationships while creating safer work environments. To learn more, visit our site.
Contents are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Users are reminded to seek legal counsel concerning their obligations and use of PlusOne Solutions services.