Caregivers, Criminal Background Checks and Drug Screening: Don’t Skip this Critical Step!
By Leslie Eckford
Recently I was talking with the wife of an elderly fellow who needs a good caregiver. She had been searching for just the right person to help her husband. After meeting with all the wrong candidates for the job, she was relieved that she had finally found the right person with just the skills that she knew would be a good fit for her family member. When I mentioned that she needs to get a criminal background check on this candidate, she sighed. “I don’t even know how to do that. And, do I have to tell the person? Maybe they won’t want to work for us if I have to do that.”
Unfortunately, I can tell you firsthand how much you may regret it if you do not take this precaution. I relied solely on a glowing recommendation and reference in hiring a caregiver for my family which resulted in our family being the victim of multiple crimes. I will go into greater detail about this harrowing experience in the caregiving book that Amanda Lambert and I are currently writing. But, you can take my word for it now, protect your family and their belongings: criminal background checks and drug screenings are a must. And, though this particular post is related to hiring privately, if you are hiring through an agency, don’t assume that all is well. Ask the care agency how they check criminal backgrounds and what their policies are for random drug screenings, both before and during employment.
Getting a criminal background check and drug screening on a person that you are about to employ to work with a loved one in your home is a critically important step before hiring. However, it can be a process fraught with concerns and trepidation for both parties. Does it mean that you are assuming that the caregiver is a criminal? If you are the caregiver, do you feel offended that someone is implying that you have done something illegal? And what if you do have something (even a minor infraction that is not related to your skills or job requirement) on your record? As an RN applicant years ago, I can remember being a little offended when I was asked to do a drug test for a pre-employment screening. These days, though, I think it is the world we live in. (Update 5/17/2016 See more about problems that arise for employers in many industries regarding drug screening in this New York Times article.)
As an employer, you must consider that there are different types of background checks and follow the laws pertaining to them. There are credit reports, criminal background checks, and verification of identity. A site to read to make sure that you are in compliance with the law is Privacyrights.org. Getting someone’s credit report always requires their knowledge and permission. Other types of checks may not, but please review the specifics. If you use an online company to do the background check, they will require a written permission from the job candidate. Make sure that the company you hire follows the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) and applicable state laws.
You may be able to do the check yourself if the state that you live in has a good online system for their individual courts and counties. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- This requires that you know where the applicant has lived in the past, 7 years being the standard recommended time period.
- Accessibility to online criminal record information varies greatly from state to state and county to county.
- If a crime is committed in another locale that you do not know about, your independent search is pointless.
As for paying a company to do the search for you, it may be done very well, but understand:
- that the data bases for the information can be inconsistent.
- One search can get different results on the same person than another search. A law enforcement official told me that even police departments may run several checks before they get complete information.
It is actually helpful to be upfront with your potential employee about your need for the criminal background check and screening. I have only had one or two people balk at the idea of the background check. More often, I hear from applicants that they would do the same when it comes to someone who would be in such a trusted position with a member of their family. This topic can generate very good conversations with caregivers that I am considering hiring about something that is in their background. Sometimes even mentioning that a criminal background check is required will elicit a confession of sorts, and someone may describe an event or problem earlier in their life. People have told me about charges related to domestic conflicts or traffic violations. It’s when someone doesn’t tell me and I find out history with the criminal background check or drug screening that is the big problem.
I have been asked what online background check companies that I recommend. I have used 3-4 different companies, and I am honestly not thrilled about any of them. What has this been like for you? Do you have a recommendation, a good experience with a paid background check company for a caregiver applicant? How expensive is it? How complicated and time consuming? And, caregivers: what has your experience been like on the receiving end of this process? Please share.