It has been three years since we first learned of the tragedies that took place at Penn State involving Jerry Sandusky. As a mother of three boys, the horrors of that case stay fresh in my mind, as I’m sure they do many of yours. Over the course of time we have gone through a range of emotions- disgust, grief, anger. We want questions answered. Why was this allowed to happen? As employers we ask questions of ourselves. How can we prevent something like this? Jerry Sandusky didn’t show up looking like a monster. He was educated, articulate, and well dressed. How can we recognize what lies beneath the façade? How can we protect ourselves against future Jerry Sanduskys?
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Justifacts has a personal relationship with this particular case. In 2010 Juniata College received a volunteer application from Jerry Sandusky, and Justifacts did the background check on him. The results of that background investigation led to Mr. Sandusky being denied a volunteer position at the school. A comprehensive background check uncovered that although Mr. Sandusky had no previous criminal record, he did have a pending investigation at Central Mountain High School, which was revealed through a Past Employment Check. Who can say how many boys were spared contact with Jerry Sandusky because of a simple background check?
This case clearly illustrates how important it is when reviewing applicants to have as much information as possible. When trying to get a complete picture of an applicant we must be able to put all the pieces of data together in order to see an individual for who he truly is. Where a problem candidate can hide in one area, he may reveal himself in another. When we conduct a criminal background check we might reveal weakness or violence in a person’s character. When we contact past employers and references, information about work ethic and ability are revealed. When we confirm a person’s degree we reveal a person’s expertise and honesty. The more information we find, the more pieces are revealed, until at last a complete picture begins to develop. Only then can we make an informed decision based on demonstrated behavior and facts.
Moving forward, it helps to know that employers can make a difference. A few simple actions can go a long way:
- Have a plan – A well thought out employment screening policy must be our first line of defense. Such a plan should identify which applicants will receive a background check, the screening criteria that is relevant for each job position, and how the information obtained will be used. The plan should be compliant with state and federal laws as well as EEOC and FTC guidelines. Having a written policy in place helps provide consistency in the workplace and can be a helpful defense against a discrimination claim.
- Practice due diligence – Background checks should reflect the position the candidate is applying for. According to the United States Department of Labor it is estimated that about one in three adults now has a criminal history record but these often consist of an arrests that do not lead to conviction, convictions for which the person was not sentenced to a jail term, or convictions for non-violent crimes. The new EEOC guidelines frown on corporations that use criminal records as a blanket excuse not to hire someone. People do make mistakes in their life, and many of these individuals deserve a second chance. However, there are occasions when a criminal record does directly preclude an applicant from a job. Many employers serve a vulnerable population that they are entrusted to protect. We don’t want drunk drivers behind the wheel, we don’t want thieves to have access to our money and we certainly do not want sex offenders near our kids. As evidenced by the Jerry Sandusky case, a comprehensive background check should extend to our volunteers as well as our paid employees.
- Consider the cost – Certainly the victims of Jerry Sandusky have paid dearly. The pain and suffering to these boys and their families will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The scandalous behavior of Penn State has brought shame and embarrassment to its students, faculty and alumni and has tarnished the university’s reputation for the foreseeable future. Then there is the financial cost. Penn State is expected to pay out more than $42 million dollars. Certainly, the cost of a background check pales in comparison to such costs. However many organizations are turning to low cost, low quality background checks. These inexpensive and unreliable database searches have made it increasingly easy for criminals to appear to have a clear record. These searches are incomplete and give a false sense of security. A good background check should involve multiple levels of screening and be FCRA compliant.
- Reassess – There is no crystal ball when it comes to employees. Your employee can pass a background check with flying colors and go out that night and commit a felony. Reevaluating employees at regular intervals adds another layer of security to your organization and helps to protect your employees and customers from the harmful, intentional acts of an unfit employee.
The Jerry Sandusky case has been a hard lesson learned. We can make a choice to be passive and hope for the best, or to be proactive in defending ourselves against terrible risks. Certainly there are no guarantees in life and no background check can protect us against every danger. However, at the end of the day, it is possible to be the employer who can honestly say we took every measure to protect our employees, our reputation and the clients we serve.