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Criminal Background Checks and Drug Screening


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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.

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  1. ellenpunderwood on

    I think every agency ought to require its caregivers go through a background check. This is the benefit of using an agency. I want to have the confidence that the person walking into our home (who we do not know) has passed a background test by their employer. I also think employees of agencies must be willing to undergo a drug-screening, if some circumstance warrant it.

    When it comes to independent care-givers, we only have used people who have come very highly recommended by friends. We have not asked for a background check. If we did use one, I would go with the pros. I would not try to conduct one myself using the various websites, because I am not sure you get a complete picture of a person, and I just don’t think I could do this as well as a pro (a company that specializes in background checks) can do.

    I am less concerned about a credit score, as it may rule out some excellent potential caregivers. (I think an agency ought to get one, but the whole picture of the employee should be discussed with the agency during the hiring process.)

    • Absolutely, Ellen, great comment. I do think it is prudent, though, to ask the agency about their own process getting background checks ie what service they use, how far back in years do they go, are there certain areas that they ignore (traffic tickets etc), do they also do a drug screening? I do have to warn people due to my own experience: Please do not rely solely on a friend’s recommendation. I wish that we could, but I had a very bad experience with doing that. Get a background check for real peace of mind and security.

  2. ellenpunderwood on

    I expect we will in the future. Also, I am glad you mentioned the types of questions to ask. I would not have thought to go into that level of detail, but it is important.

  3. Hello @lesliee2015. No matter whether hiring the employees in organization or hiring a caregiver for your home, background checks should be the basic safety precaution that the employers or homeowners should adopt. I believe, from different types of background check, criminal and drug screening are the crucial things for any hiring. It’s somehow manageable if the employers have bad credit or driving record, but we can’t skip these two. However, those who are employing must know the state and federal rules and that should not be violated in any sense.

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