Think about this: according to the United States Department of Labor, each year nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence. Fraud committed by employees cost American companies approximately $20 billion annually, and workplace theft tops out at more than $120 billion.
Managing agents have a duty to provide the best people for the job, but disquieting statistics such as these highlight how crucial it is for anyone hired by a residential building to be reliable, trustworthy and dependable. This means that applicants need to go through a rigorous screening process to weed out candidates with records of terminations, disciplinary action, or criminal history. Hiring good people is more than just checking boxes and doing cursory interviews; some studies have shown that up to 30 percent of applications already contain false information.
According to the HireRight Benchmarking Report (www.hireright.com), a survey of nearly 1,800 human resources, talent management, recruiting, security, safety and other professionals published by HireRight, a professional screening firm based in Irvine, California, most employers require screening in order to maintain compliance with employment laws and regulations, improve the quality of hires, protect their organizations from theft and fraud and reduce employee turnover and workplace violence. These background checks can range from Social Security number verification to employee's work and educational history, credit checks and, a sometimes even a peek at their Facebook page.
“But before we even go down the road to drilling for more detail, we need to see if the applicant is actually qualified to do the job,” says Dan Wurtzel, president of Manhattan-based management company Cooper Square Realty. “So our initial screening of the applicant is their employment history.”
Before you even start on a background check however, ask for written permission. “The applicant tells of interest in the position and if that applicant is considered and found to be the right fit, a ‘contingent offer of employment’ can be made pending favorable results of background and reference checks,” says Roberta Rosenblatt Jackson, SPHR-CA, GPHR Director of Human Resources for the Touro College & University System in New York City. “That is when we can ask for written permission and you must have written specific permission once you make that contingent offer—and do not ask for that until after you make that offer.”
Once you start that check, know what you’re looking for and where to ask for more information. A resume is a first impression of who your applicant is, and can say a lot - both positively and negatively. Most hiring pros say the first thing they look for is a history of job stability. Has the applicant stayed with a select number of employers, or jumped around from job to job? If your candidate has skipped years of employment, ask them why. Maybe they went back to school, decided to travel or some other explainable reason. Or you may find out that they were incarcerated and you’ll need further information.
To verify an applicant's educational and work history, it's a good idea to call any schools listed as well as previous employers to confirm the applicant attended those schools and worked at those businesses. During a reference call, a former boss can choose tell a caller anything about the performance of the applicant, although most will only confirm dates of employment and the applicant's final salary.
Nevertheless, listen carefully to what’s being said when you call. “When calling for a reference, if your contact will only verify that the applicant you're calling about worked there during such-and-such dates, that might be a red flag,” says Margie Russell, executive director of the New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM).
Phone calls and reference checks aren't the only ways to find out more about a job applicant. Argo Real Estate LLC in Manhattan uses a private investigator firm to complete their background checks on perspective employees, says Emanuel Edwards, Argo's director of management.
John Reese, senior director of marketing at HireRight says that his company comes in when the final candidate has been chosen for the job and the management company is doing their due diligence. HireRight provides 150 background screening services, the extent and depth of which depend on the employer and the position being filled.
“If you’re serving children or the elderly, you might apply a different set of background searches than you would for another position,” says Reese. “We also make sure our clients’ policies are in compliance with any national guidelines about what they can and cannot do.”
For example, employers must verify the identity and employment authorization of each person they hire. Reese makes sure the companies are in compliant with a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, which certifies that an individual is authorized to work in the United States and must be completed for every hire after November 6, 1986.
Along with work and educational history, it's imperative that anyone hired for a position of any responsibility in a residential setting be vetted for criminal history. Not only does neglecting this portion of the hiring process put your residents and their property at risk, but it represents an enormous liability for the building or association, should negligent hiring result in harm. Criminal background checks look for a number of things, including restraining orders for domestic abuse, civil cases for violent incidents, and military, federal and court records. Most can be completed online or by professional security companies.
That being said, not every blip on a person's criminal history is grounds for throwing out their application. “If someone has something criminal in their past, we might not say no to hiring them,” says Edwards “We may just want to know more information about any type of arrest or infraction of the law, especially if they marked ‘no’ on the application, but it came back that they did have something.”
Whether or not you should hire someone with a criminal past also depends on what the position is. “In an extreme example, if they were a convicted sex offender or convicted of breaking into a home, it’s obviously not a good idea to hire them as a doorman,” says Wurtzel. On the other hand, throwing out an otherwise qualified applicant because of a single 20-year-old misdemeanor might rob your community of a potentially great employee. Ultimately, it's best to confer with colleagues—and possibly your community's legal counsel—and determine your level of comfort with the facts presented.
More and more employers are running credit checks on prospective employees. If a strong applicant has an iffy credit rating—or even a lousy one—find out why. Perhaps they recently went through a divorce, or had to pay medical bills. If your applicant has no credit, it might indicate a bigger problem.
“A credit check, including the credit score, gives us a flavor of where the applicant is financially and if they have any liens or judgments against them,” says Wurtzel. “Again, [a poor score] doesn’t mean they are disqualified, but it does require further questioning. We want to understand everything we can about an individual before we decide to offer them a job.”
In many states, there are specific requirements for how organizations can use credit checks for employment purposes. At a federal level, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines rules for organizations about how they conduct credit checks for employment purposes.
For example, according to the FCRA, a background check performed by an outside company for positions under $75,000 per year cannot report bankruptcies after 10 years, civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest from date of entry, after seven years, paid tax liens after seven years; accounts placed for collection after seven years; any other negative information (except criminal convictions) after seven years.
Drug Tests and Social Media
Drug tests sample an applicant's urine, sweat, blood, or hair to determine if the applicant has recently been using, and they can be a part of a successful employee background check. “The drug test typically comes at the end, before they are offered the job—and we can disqualify a candidate if they fail that test,” says Wurtzel.
Some employers are now also checking Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media accounts to get an idea of possible new hires’ hobbies, personal lives and former reemployment and schooling. While according to HireRight’s survey, 56 percent of employers use or are planning to use social media during sourcing and recruiting, relatively few – just 11 percent so far - report using it in background checks. Nevertheless, the trend may pick up as more and more of our lives move online. If an applicant has great references, a strong work history, and relevant skills, yet has a Facebook photo page full of drunken debauchery and profanity-laced status updates, it might be well worth an employer's time to follow up and ask some pointed questions.
And speaking of questions...there are some that are off the table in the interview and screening process because they are considered discriminatory. Questions about race, nationality, age, or other protected status should not be part of the interview process—and inserting them can lead to legal trouble. Arrests and convictions are not considered protected, however. “Whatever is on a criminal report/credit report is a public record and it’s okay to find out more information,” says Wurtzel.
On the Job
Once you’ve hired a new employee, it’s important to keep them trained and up-to-date on the policies and procedures of the building and of their job. Cooper Square Realty has a learning center that instructs and trains new employees on the aspects of their job.
“Whenever possible, if it is a building staffed with 32BJ employees, encourage the staff to take union-sponsored seminars and course work geared toward the human interaction side of their job,” says Russell. “The building can also insist that classes are taken or they can be brought to the management company or building if 10 or more union members join in.”
But what happens if it’s not the employees that are conducting suspicious activities, but it’s the residents? Wurtzel says that employees are trained to handle a variety of situations that arise. “If, at any point, a building employee feels a crime being committed, they are to call the police,” says Wurtzel. “Take the guesswork out of what the employee is to do by having the job description cover as many possibilities that can occur at the building. For example what happens if you’re a doorman and you’re the only person at the door, but you have to use the bathroom at 2am? There should be a procedure for that. The same for when you see someone hanging out in front of the building that looks suspicious.”
HireRight suggests that you commit to an effective screening program. “Every new hire represents not only a possible liability to an organization in terms of risks of workplace violence, employee theft and turnover, but also a potential advantage,” says Reese.
For more information on professional screeners, visit The National Association of Professional Background Screeners, www.napbs.com.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.