Employee Background Checks: Look Before You Hire

EMS organizations have a responsibility to hire employees or add volunteers whose values and reputation are above reproach. How your organization conducts employee background checks as a part of the employee screening process can significantly affect the integrity of your institute in the community.

EMS involves contact with the general public in a variety of emergency situations, often with children or other vulnerable patients. Unfortunately, you need only to look at recent news events to see how the profession of EMS is under suspicion of mistrust: paramedics accused of on-duty sexual encounters with minors, a paramedic supervisor charged with misuse of narcotics, managers accused of theft, patients claiming abuse.

In addition to such reports, the number of negligent hiring lawsuits is also on the rise. Employers are being held liable for the actions of their employees if the organization failed to adequately check the employee s background information prior to hire.

Have your employees submitted to a careful screening to reveal any history of problems that may pose a public safety concern? You can work to protect your organization by implementing and adhering to a thorough and complete background check before applicants are considered for employment.

Depending on your location, you may have only a few candidates or too many candidates for an advertised position with your EMS agency. In either case, it s equally important to set your principles for the kind of employee you re looking to hire and apply those principles to every applicant being considered for employment.

What s involved and where do you start? First review your agency s application form to determine if you re asking for all the background information that s legally allowed. The application should ask for all relevant information about past work history, education and certifications. You should require the applicant to submit copies of any degrees, certifications, driver s license and military discharge papers.

Along with the application, your agency should have a written authorization form that allows you to conduct a background investigation regarding: education credentials, criminal background, driving history, credit history, character references, military discharge, court records, state license records and employment history. Some agencies also ask applicants to sign a form attesting they haven t been convicted of any child abuse, sexual abuse, violence against another person or any conviction related to medications or drugs.

Your attorney should review the forms to make sure you re seeking all the data you can about each applicant s background information, but that you re not asking illegal questions. Some examples include the following.

You can ask:

  • For a Social Security number to prove identity and the ability to be hired. But you should not ask the candidate s age, date of birth or year of graduation from high school or college. These kinds of questions may violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act because they could identify applicants older than 40.
  • If they have served in the military, which branch number, dates of service and type of discharge. You can also inquire if they re participating in any military reserve or National Guard program.
  • About their driving record and if they have held a license in another state. Some candidates with poor driving records will move to a new state to avoid issues with a history of problem driving.

You cannot ask:

  • Any questions that would indicate if the candidate has a mental or physical disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits asking such questions. In general, you should not ask if the candidate has filed a workers compensation or disability claim or if they ve been hospitalized for an extended period of time.
  • If the person has been arrested. An arrest is not a conviction. However, you can ask about court convictions that are relevant to the type of job.
  • If they have filed for bankruptcy. However, bankruptcies are public record so an employer can obtain that information.
  • About medical history, in most cases, or make a hiring decision based on an applicant s medical disability.
  • If the applicant is pregnant or has children. Inquiries like these violate Title VII s prohibition against sex or pregnancy discrimination.
  • Any questions about the applicant s religion.

It s important to check all information submitted on an employee application or resume. During an ideal background check, an applicant is completely honest up front and provides complete explanations for any incidents. But in some cases, an applicant may intentionally submit misinformation or omit incidents that might disqualify them for employment. In the past, many organizations rarely took the time to call previous employers or verify educational credentials, which, in some cases, led to people being hired who lacked even the basic certifications needed for the job.

In addition to verifying information provided on applications and resumes, some organizations conduct an extensive background check system with a personal history form that could be as long as 20 pages. The agency designates one person as the lead investigator for the background investigation. During the screening process, the investigator verifies all information on the form and looks for other relevant information about the applicant that may help determine their suitability for employment.

One way to check out an applicant is to have the person conducting the background investigation go to the applicant s current workplace and talk with not only supervisors but also coworkers. A checklist of questions and areas to review ensures that consistent information is collected about each candidate. The investigator keeps all information obtained confidential, specifically information about criminal background, court records and credit report. The investigator then prepares a summary report for the manager, chief or hiring committee to provide relevant information needed to make a hiring decision.

Some managers may believe that it s too costly to conduct an extensive background check for every candidate. But consider the expenses involved with training a new employee and then terminating them because of lack of certification or felony charges, and then repeating the recruitment process again to find another candidate, investigate them and then train them. It s easier to deal with potential issues prior to making a decision for employment than it is to remove a problem employee after they ve started work. To develop a successful unit, design a sufficient background check system around the needs of your agency and make it an integral part of your hiring decision process.

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