It’s the case in Texas that has everyone talking.

Administrators from Hidalgo County, the largest county in the Rio Grande Valley along the southern tip of Texas, are ‘fessing up’ to the lack of criminal background checks for its 3,000 employees.

Action 4 News uncovered the alarming story following a viewer tip. Turns out, Hidalgo County hired a convicted sex offender for a position that didn’t require a criminal background check.

The employee did his time in prison, completed his probation, and, reportedly, hasn’t had an issue since working for the county; however, this case reconfirms the need for thorough employee background checks.

This hasn’t always been the case. A century ago, no one had even considered the history of job candidates, much less a candidate’s inclination toward violence. That all began to change with closer examination of the fellow servant rule that originally protected an employer from liability when an employee got hurt on the job, either from negligence or on purpose by another employee. Lawmakers later amended the rule to ensure that employers recognized they had an obligation to provide a safe workplace; this included the hiring of safe workers.

Negligent hiring claims didn’t really gain steam until the late 1970s. You see, by that time, pre-employment credit checks had become common thanks to the Consumer Credit Protection Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These bills set guidelines for employers to protect employees, mainstreaming an official process for screening. Why was all of this important? One word: financial fraud. That was the main concern for employers then and is still an important component today. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reports that the typical organization today loses an estimated 5% of its annual revenues to occupational fraud.

With the arrival of consistent credit checks, and a greater understanding of employer liability, the background ‘check’ or ‘investigation’ became the norm, if not needed, practice in making informed hiring and retention decisions. Courts decided “an employer may be found liable if it is shown to have breached its duty of care in selecting and retaining only competent and safe employees” (Fleming v. Bronfin, 80 A.2d 915 (Mun.Ct.App. D.C. 1951)). Criminal background investigations were the next logical step.

According to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), “A background ‘investigation’ or ‘check’ is, in very broad terms, an inquiry into an individual’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and/or mode of living. It may be as simple as a criminal history search or, for persons in more sensitive, high-level positions, or persons dealing with vulnerable populations, it may involve not only a check of criminal records, but also a thorough investigation of civil records, asset and bankruptcy records, credit reports, and driving records.”

Eventually, background checks extended to firearms (at least in the United States). The Brady Law was signed into law in 1993 and mandates federal background checks on gun buyers. It stems from an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan that left his press secretary, Jim Brady, partially paralyzed for life. The attempt by John Hinckley Jr. happened after Hinckley falsified his application to buy a gun.

Here are some examples of what can happen without proper screening:

Tech manager accused of stealing iPads after falsifying resume

Convicted stalker strikes again after installing air ducts

And that’s just a small sampling. Unfortunately, these nonexistent, negligent or poor background checks happen so often that there are dedicated watchdog blogs just waiting to plaster employer and suspect’s names out there for the world to see.

The good news is that it’s easy and cost-effective to keep your name off these blogs. Our individualized and multi-platform investigative tools cover everything you need to know about candidates and comply with all regulations. Click here to find out what Active Screening can do for you. Have a background screening story? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.

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