Preventing the Unthinkable

Your safety procedures protect employees from industry accidents - but what about from each other?


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You may already have the most restrictive rules for equipment operations and intense training to prevent on-the-job accidents. The next step is preventing at-work violence, sexual harassment or employee theft and embezzlement. They could all weaken your business, whether you have 10 employees or 100. Consider this:

  • There were 900 homicides, 36,500 sexual assaults and 70,000 robberies in the workplace on average each year between 1993 and 1999.
  • Of the incidents, 1.54 percent were employee against employee; 2.13 percent were employee against supervisor; 3.7 percent were customers against workers.
  • Of the incidents, 1.38 percent were attributed to personality conflicts; 2.15 percent were attributed to family problems; 3.10 percent to drug or alcohol abuse; 4.7 percent were nonspecific; and 5.7 percent were attributed to firing or layoff.1

No moldmaking business owner wants to think that employees could steal from their shop. Whether employees work in a grocery store and pilfer produce and donuts or they work in a machine shop and rummage through coworkers' lockers - some people will steal when there is an opportunity.

One example: The letter began, I have been involved along with the rest of the cleaning crew of (a sports club) in stealing. I have stolen food from the deli . I also have taken products from the lost-and-found such as clothes that were bagged up for give-away. I was told that this was okay as long as the clothes were bagged. I was shown by another employee that there was a key that fit into all of the lockers (a master) where I too went through all the lockers and took change."}

The best predictor that an employee might steal from your business is his or her background. Often, employers do not run a background check to find convictions. That is how criminals work, by taking advantage of employers who fail to investigate. However, you can find out whether job applicants or employees have a criminal history - and whether they are being honest on their applications. Criminal history or false information on a job application is a red flag for some employers. That's because criminals reoffend: 53 percent of prisoners released from one state system were rearrested within three years for committing new felonies or misdemeanors.

  • Of inventory shrinkage, 45.9 percent in 2001 was due to employee theft.3
  • Nearly one in three businesses fails due to employee theft.4

You might be surprised if you were to check the backgrounds of all job applicants and current employees in your shop. At the least you would learn whether your employee or applicant has been honest with you, and at the worst, whether they would be a hiring risk.

Case in Point

Before making a hiring decision, one company requested both criminal background and social security checks. At first the criminal search found no felonies or misdemeanors in the counties that the applicant listed as previous residences. Then the social security check showed that a third county in a different state was associated with that social security number. Another criminal search was run in the unreported county and a criminal record was discovered. It showed convictions for menacing and stalking a coworker.

Unfortunately, this example is not rare. That is why background checks are something to consider in the moldmaking industry. You are bringing people in and giving them access to equipment, supplies and client information - such as credit and account information, names, addresses, and so on. Everyday, investigators find records for sexual assault, child molestation, robbery, drug trafficking, domestic violence and even attempted murder convictions.

A recent study of 255,000 background requests (see Figure 1) found the following:

  • Of applicants, 9.63 percent had a criminal conviction.
  • Nearly 2,000 had given false social security numbers or had aliases associated with their numbers.
  • Of applicants, 9.4 percent lied about their employment history.
  • Also, 9.1 percent lied about their educational background.

All background investigations must be conducted with the signed consent of the applicant or employee. Even when they gave their consent, these are the percentages of people who nonetheless falsified information. Some job applicants, to their credit, have informed the employer of any spots on their record ahead of time, and the employer runs the background check to verify what the applicant has told them. Others disclose only a portion of their convictions.

Most states only allow employers to consider criminal records that date seven years back. Others allow a ten-year history to be considered in making a hiring decision.

It's Not Just About Protecting Assets

These days, investigating a job applicant's background not only helps protect company assets, but it also keeps the workplace safe. It is not always major felonies, but the small telltale signs that uncover an applicant's tendencies toward violence.

Several lawsuits have held employers accountable for employing people who committed a crime either on the job or with information obtained through work. The businesses lost millions when they had to compensate victims. Some examples include:

  • Somerset Auctions settled a multi-million dollar wrongful death lawsuit. Somerset hired convicted felon Mesa Kasem to deliver to customers. Kasem recruited a fellow gang member to help him rob the home of customer Kim Fang. On January 4, 2000, the gang members barged into Fang's home and pistol-whipped Fang's wife, her brother, and the nanny. Fang fired his own weapon, killing Kasem - then Kasem's accomplice shot Fang twice in the back. The lawsuit claimed Somerset failed to use reasonable care to discover Kasem's violent criminal background, which included a conviction for shooting a woman in her home.5
  • A restaurant manager raped his 16-year-old female coworker. He had a history of sexual abuse. Judgment: $6.5 million.
  • A hospital employee murdered a coworker. He had two previous convictions for assault. Judgment: $1.9 million.
  • A parking attendant who had a history of violence injured an engineer. Judgment: $864,000.6

In these cases and others, large and small businesses could have spent as little as $15 to avoid tragedy and lost money.

You Can't Tell Who Will Lie

When someone applies for a management position, you may have even more, not less, reason to ensure that they're being honest on the resume. Recent news coverage highlights that it's not just blue collar workers who are tempted to exaggerate. Veritas Software's CFO Kenneth Lonchar lied about having a Stanford education. Unfortunately, the truth came out after he'd been at the helm for years. Negative national media coverage helped stock prices dive. Bausch and Lomb's chief executive lied about having a graduate degree in business. The chairman of MCG Capital Corp, a broadcasting investment firm, resigned after it was discovered that he lied about having an undergraduate degree from Syracuse University - he still serves, but as chief executive.

Although your company may not have to worry about negative media coverage and stock losses, such lies could reveal intent to embezzle from your company. "Just recently, our background investigators discovered criminal records for someone applying as the chief financial advisor for a client," says Robert Mather, president and CEO of Pre-employ.com, Inc. "The charges included felony grand theft and embezzlement!"

What Should a Background Check Include?

Background checks can be tailored to each job description. If you are hiring drivers, you will want to run a driving record check to see if the applicant has caused many accidents (the criminal record check will show you any convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol). If you are hiring someone to run the accounting department or be your bookkeeper, you would run a credit check to ensure that he or she is not in financial trouble. If you are hiring someone specifically to work as a machine operator, these two checks may not be necessary, and a criminal records search would suffice for your peace of mind.

A sex offender search is always a good idea if workers will have contact with children in your workplace or places of delivery.

If applicants claim to have a certain level of experience and education, but if you want proof, you can verify employment history and degrees obtained. All of these searches, including drug testing, can be conducted in every state in the U.S. and in every country in which they are legal.

Be Wary of Databases Offering Easy Searches

An administrator with one state repository says that only 40 percent of criminal data from the police and courts was ever reported to the state criminal record center - and he expects that is typical for every state. This means that 60 percent of criminal convictions fail to make it to the state database. As criminal records are passed up the chain from local county or district courts, information is lost or incorrectly entered.

Many online companies that offer quick investigations are using outdated or inaccurate databases. The most accurate pre-employment screening companies use court researchers located throughout the country. Those researchers conduct hands-on searches at the local courts. That is how you as an employer, know that the person you are about to hire either has a record or is clear.

1U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

}Employment Services Investigation, 1998.

32001 National Retail Security Survey.

4U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

5Hinton & Alfert, 2002.

6National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence.