Why Relying on Luck Is Not a Good Liability Policy

[Phone rings]

Ann: “Cutting Edge, this is Ann.”

Customer: “So, why should I bother with background checks? It’s a waste of money and they just hold up the process. I got work that needs to be done and can’t afford to lose time or candidates.”

Ann: “Can you afford a multi-million dollar lawsuit? Ask yourself: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you?”

Customer: “You got quite an attitude there. And a pretty decent Dirty Harry impression.”

I know—everyone has a bottom line.

And pretty much everyone I know has health insurance. Car insurance. Maybe even dental and vision.

Background checks are good insurance.

Wait. GOOD background checks are good insurance.

Wouldn’t you want know if someone was convicted of a crime before they came to work? If they were going to put you, your company, your employees and your customers at some kind of risk?

Courts have held that you, as an employer, may be liable for negligent hiring if there is something in a candidate’s background that you could have known.

Take for example, the case in California of a carpet cleaning firm that hired based on the warm body theory. In 1998 a newly hired employee was immediately sent into homes to clean carpets. Within a month, the new employee committed a brutal murder. The victim was woman who was having her carpets cleaned. As the facts came out, it became apparent this employee’s past employment claims were false. He had been convicted of a violent crime and had been in prison for the past ten years. If the employer had just taken two minutes to pick up the phone and call the supposed past employment references, the employer would have immediately discovered the fraudulent past employment claims. Had the employer done a simple criminal check, it would have raised red flags. A brief phone call or a simple record check would have a saved a life. The victim’s husband sued the company, the case went to trial and the jury awarded the victim’s family $9.38 million in 2002. The case was appealed and settled out of court.

So, let’s not have this happen to you. And the kicker is? Mistakes may happen. But can you prove to the jury that you did your best—you were diligent—in hiring, trying to find the best applicant and not just a warm body? If the $4.95 Nationwide Online Supersearch is your best move, you probably can’t say you did your best. Be diligent. Run the SSN traces, search all the applicable jurisdictions at the courthouse level, check the federal courts and sex offender registries. It will cost more than $4.95.

But unless you can afford bad publicity and a $1,000,000+ jury award, it’s money in the bank.