Many "sharing economy" services get rave reviews. However, a few recent cases have highlighted situations where contractors with backgrounds ranging from questionable to downright criminal are being hired.
In an industry that relies so heavily on trust, will these select situations cast a shadow on the sharing economy? And, more importantly, what can HR managers do to protect their companies and customers moving forward?
Dave Dickerson, founder and CEO of Accurate Background, an employment and workforce screening services provider in Irvine, Calif., offered some thoughts for HR leaders on this growing trend.
HR Dive: There has been a lot of discussion about how sharing economy players are vetting, or not vetting, the people they hire. What is the standard?
Dickerson: The real concern is that there is no standard. Some services go the extra mile and run a thorough background check on their contract workers. Others do not run any background checks at all -- relying on consumers to do their own vetting. To understand exactly what the service is doing or not doing, the consumer oftentimes has to look at the fine print.
If a contractor is using your application, he is representing your brand. The potential for brand damage is huge when something goes wrong, as we are seeing with these recent cases. Contractors should be vetted with the same rigor as full-time employees.
HR Dive: When it comes to a background check, what constitutes thorough? For example, should that include fingerprint checks, as many suggest?
Dickerson: Legislators are often quick to push for fingerprinting through the FBI database, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). However, there’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding how this database actually works. Too many CSI episodes and TV shows have portrayed this as the gold standard for background checks. In reality, the database is just one tool for identifying possible adverse information about an individual, and it certainly will not paint a complete and accurate picture.
For example, a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that many of the arrest records in the NCIC are incomplete, without final dispositions. Arrest records by themselves should never be used to make decisions, as they do not indicate whether a person was actually charged with or convicted of a crime. Additionally, not all criminal records are identifiable via fingerprints, so it’s possible for a crime to have happened without being listed in the database.
To receive the most up-to-date and complete criminal history on a candidate, you must go to the source – county courts. This includes county level criminal checks and driving records. Unlike a fingerprint search, a county criminal history check can return results based on a variety of personal identifiers, including SSN, date of birth, name variation and addresses.
HR Dive: A number of new entrants are specifically targeting the sharing economy, promising better technology and faster turnaround. What are your thoughts on that?
Dickerson: The old adage, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” definitely applies here. No company has exclusive or proprietary access to any county court system, as people are being led to believe. What these companies are actually doing is putting the burden of compliance solely on the companies using their services by passing information directly from the data sources -- unfiltered. The danger in this is that people may be unfairly denied access to job opportunities because of improper use of data.
HR Dive: There has been a lot of discussion on both sides about the right for convicted criminals to seek jobs in the sharing economy. How do you see this working?
Dickerson: Everyone deserves a job, but not everyone deserves every job. Someone who assaults a child can’t work around children. That’s just common sense. However, rehabilitating convicted criminals and getting them back into the workforce is a big initiative for our country. In many states – California is one, for example - previous convictions can only be shown on a background check if it occurred within the last seven years. Companies are complying with these regulations, but in doing so are being told their background checks are not adequate. Legislators want it both ways. They go after companies hiring someone who has a 20-year-old criminal record, but then they talk about job creation. Providing opportunities for someone with a previous conviction helps the economy and lessens the likelihood of them becoming repeat offenders.
HR Dive: What else can HR managers in the sharing economy do to help make the process safer?
Dickerson: Cutting corners for the sake of speed reduces your ability to be in compliance. It also puts everyone at risk, including your company’s reputation. Consider doing regular periodic checks on your contractors, since they will have direct access to consumers. For this sharing economy phenomenon to continue to work, there needs to be trust. Building that trust starts with understanding background checks to better understand who you are hiring.