No one has to tell a security professional about the growing importance of background screening. More than 80% of large U.S. organizations now perform some kind of criminal background check on potential new hires, and more and more companies are checking employment history, education, driving records, credit history, sex offender registries, restricted parties lists and more. Clearly the drive to background screening is prompted by the desire for a safer workplace, the need to hire better people and threats of litigation for negligent hiring and retention in which the average court award has exceeded $1 million.
But even as background screening becomes a hiring standard, it is clear that not all background screening is created equal or applied equally. Applying background screening haphazardly and without a carefully formulated plan can leave organizations vulnerable to the negative events they are trying to avoid, as well as to criticism, employee dissatisfaction and even litigation. One of the best ways to avoid these problems is to make background screening an accepted and standard part of company security through the implementation of a carefully considered background screening policy based on best practices. This policy should extend to the entire workforce, not just your permanent hires. Such a policy shows a company’s clear intention to protect its workers and customers as a matter of procedure. Adoption of best practices demonstrates that the company applies its screening standards fairly, with cause, without prejudice and in compliance with all legal requirements.
Closing the Extended Workforce Loophole
While the first step in developing a successful background screening program is to establish a standard policy, there is an important workplace vulnerability that security professionals must be aware of before such a policy can be written—the presence of a largely unscreened extended workforce.
One head of security at a global company recently commented that it was interesting that no employee of the company including himself got into the CEO’s office without a background check, security badge and escort—no one that is unless you counted the unscreened vendor employee who watered the plants in the CEO’s office. This is a classic example of the extended workforce loophole that exists in companies of all sizes. Even where the most stringent employee screening policies exist, there is often no plan for vetting vendors, partners, and temporary and contract employees.
The vulnerability that this loophole represents is better understood in light of the fact that a recent HireRight survey found that vendor employees were 92 percent more likely to have a felony record than a permanent hire and 50 percent more likely to have a misdemeanor record or drug history. One reason for this striking difference is the logical phenomenon of adverse selection. Since so many companies conduct background checks as part of their standard hiring procedure, applicants with questionable pasts tend to find jobs in companies where background checks are not performed. From the security professional’s point of view, even if a vendor company performs background checks, they may not meet the hiring company’s screening standards and thus still represent a potential vulnerability.
The extended workforce loophole exists largely as a function of procedure, management and technology challenges. Typically, all direct workforce applicants are processed by security and human resources through the corporate screening process before being hired or given a security badge. The indirect workforce, whether employees of a maintenance company, IT contractors or marketing consultants, are often times not required to go through the security and HR departments before being granted access. From a process and management point of view, these workers are generally hired and supervised by a wide range of business functions. The night cleaning crew may be under the supervision of the facilities department, the contract software engineer is typically hired by engineering and temporary employees may be hired by HR or a host of other departments. In many organizations there is no central security process governing all of these business functions and categories of workers.
The first step, then, in closing this loophole is requiring all extended workforce personnel be subject to the company’s standard security procedures regardless of which department manages them. All departments need to be educated on the importance of screening their extended workforce personnel and the step-by-step procedure for doing this.
Another challenge in plugging the extended workforce security gap is vendor participation. Again, there must be a process in place that requires vendor employees to be screened before they are granted access to company facilities or information. The policy must establish clear guidelines for the vendor as to which screens need to be conducted to meet the company’s standards. There also needs to be a process whereby the results of the screening report are delivered directly to the company for review and approval, or adjudicated and managed by a third party.
Companies that are successfully screening their extended workforce often find program compliance is easiest to enforce when tying the screening requirements to the badging system. Software solutions are beginning to emerge that can assist companies with tying these two functions together and securing the willing participation of the vendors and suppliers. Whether an internal or external solution is selected, including extended workforce screening in the company’s security policy is a critical step.
With screening of the extended workforce as a standard procedure and a carefully crafted background screening policy in place, security professionals will have taken a huge step toward protecting their employees and other important company assets.
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