Oran Kiazim: Don’t let the wrong people into your business

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Peter Lorre playing the villain in Quicksand in 1952. Not the kind of man you would want to bring into your organisation?
Peter Lorre playing the villain in Quicksand in 1952. Not the kind of man you would want to bring into your organisation

The essence of good HR practice is to get the right people into the right roles and to create a healthy organisational culture where everyone can add real value to the business. Part of this involves ensuring that you do not hire the ‘wrong people’.

The wrong candidates come in many forms; some will be unsuited to the skills required by the role or the culture you want to instil. An effective selection process should screen out these individuals. The greater threat comes from candidates who have the propensity to engage in counterproductive behaviour. This can include fraud, theft, corruption or bullying. Employers have a responsibility to protect their staff and their assets from being abused or manipulated by counterproductive individuals.

Of course, candidates are unlikely to admit that they lack integrity yet they will often demonstrate whether or not they have it when they apply to you. For example, someone who embellishes their CV – to make themselves appear more employable by raising their qualification grades or claiming a job title they did not have – is perhaps not as bad as someone who tells outright lies and completely fabricates whole sections of their education or their past employment history. However, neither of them is demonstrating integrity. These may appear relatively minor misdemeanours but the point here is that if someone is prepared to falsify the truth in order to get a job, they may be more susceptible to counterproductive behaviour if you employ them.

Protecting your business

Background screening is increasingly seen as a way to protect your organisation from the wrong people. A new report* highlights that the majority of UK organisations (58 percent) now conduct pre-employment screening on new hires and of those that do not, a quarter expect to start doing so in the coming year.

Background checks are most commonly undertaken by large organisations when recruiting executives, directors and managers (these checks can include media reviews to see if a person has caused reputational harm to a past employer). However, companies of all sizes are now undertaking checks and, increasingly, it is for lower-level employees and even for part-time workers, contingent staff and volunteers.

These checks can serve several purposes. For example, employers use them to determine not only if someone is telling the truth on their CV but also to ascertain whether a candidate has a criminal record and whether they have the right to work in the UK. The latest threat is to weed out candidates who have forged their identity or immigration status. The tight labour market makes it tempting for some employers to look the other way when recruiting new staff but any business that knowingly employs people who do not have permission to work in the UK risks a £20,000 civil penalty for each illegal worker, as well as damage to their brand and reputation.

Regulated professions – such as finance, healthcare and teaching – have a positive legal obligation to screen their staff. However, regulators are increasingly demanding that these organisations ‘re-check’ their employees to ensure that no new findings have arisen that would impair their ability to perform in roles which could involve a significant degree of risk to the business and to individuals. Re-checking is the latest trend in the screening industry. It’s one thing to hire the right people; the next logical step is to regularly ensure that they’re still ‘right’ for you.

In other organisations, the level of screening undertaken at the recruitment stage depends on the candidate’s role. For example, accounting roles may involve a credit check. Companies are also screening more intently when recruiting staff for job roles that involve handling personal data, including sensitive private information.

Recruiting with confidence

The benefit of background screening is knowing that the people you bring into the organisation are exactly who they say they are: they have the credentials they claim; their identities have been verified; and, there is no evidence of dishonesty associated with them. Essentially, you improve your applicant pool by weeding out those who purport to be something they are not.

That being said, a negative finding on a background check should not necessarily prevent someone from working at a company (unless it contravenes a specific legal provision). For example, many firms are keen to employ ex-offenders, claiming that they are more loyal to their employers when given the opportunity to work. The point is whether or not the candidate is honest about their conviction from the outset.

Sometimes, good practice is to simply open a dialogue with the candidate. For example, a criminal record finding may be inaccurate. A finding on a credit report may be a misreported County Court Judgement that’s associated with the candidate’s previous address. Likewise, CV embellishments are sometimes an innocent mistake, where the candidate has forgotten the exact start date or end month of a particular position. A background check will highlight any discrepancies to the employer. It is then up to you to determine whether or not the finding would adversely impact the candidate’s ability to perform well in the role. Or, instead, whether it goes against your corporate policies, ethics or appetite for corporate risk? It’s all a matter of proportionality.

The best practice approach is to ensure that you have a pre-employment screening policy and to be clear with candidates about why you screen, how the resultant information is relevant to the job and what you will do with the data. This reassures the best candidates that you have a robust selection process and that less scrupulous applicants will not make it through. Then, you can at least be confident that you are bringing the right people into your business.

Oran Kiazim is vice president of global privacy at background screening specialist SterlingBackcheck

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About Oran Kiazim

Oran Kiazim is a data protection and privacy specialist with experience in dealing with privacy matters across different industries and jurisdictions. He holds law degrees from the University of Cambridge, l’Université Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) and the College of Europe. Oran previously worked at the Court of Justice of the European Union as the primary UK law specialist, advising the EU Justices on various aspects of UK law. He has consulted on data protection and privacy issues for companies operating in EMEA as well as the United States and Canada.

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