Could Safer Screening & Hiring Practices
Have Prevented Navy Yard Shooting?

Employers Are Ultimately Responsible For Safe Hiring

When tragedy strikes, we all ask why? In the recent case of the Navy Yard shooting, many are asking, “why did the background screening of Aaron Alexis tragically fail?”

“I don’t think the background check failed; I think the process failed,” Jason Morris, president of background-screening provider EmployeeScreenIQ, stated in a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Safety & Security article.

According to the article, employers need to understand their legal responsibilities for a safe workplace and make improvements as necessary. Employers must also ensure that workers hired by a third party are safe and qualified. Companies may not always be 100 percent sure that a thorough background check is being done on their contractors or temporary workers.

“We see breakdowns in this process all the time,” said Morris. “At the end of the day, contractors are wearing a badge with the company’s name on it, not the contractor’s name. Your contractors usually have the same level of access as your employees. Why would you do your background screening any differently?”

“Employers can insist in any contract for any service that any time a worker comes on premises, that worker has been the subject of a background screening,” said attorney Lester Rosen, CEO of Employment Screening Resources, a national background-screening company. “An employer must have a hard and fast rule: No worker supplied by a third party is allowed to work unless the worker has a background check.”

The background-screening industry is already facing greater scrutiny over the accuracy of its reports, according to industry experts. Verifying the accuracy of background-check-report information and increased scrutiny of the screening industry are the top trends for 2013, Rosen told SHRM Online in January.

“One of the primary jobs of a professional background screener is to provide accurate and actionable information so that employers can make considered decisions on hiring issues,” said Rosen, author of The Safe Hiring Manual (Facts on Demand Press, 2012), a comprehensive guide for employment screening.

He advises employers to be more diligent in hiring screening firms. “Employers need to kick the tires and make sure to ask enough questions about background-check firms they may want to use for employment screening.”

The most crucial step you can take to protect your company from providers that engage in questionable or insufficient screening practices is to ask the right questions. See SHRM Online’s “Screening the Screeners” for questions to ask prospective background-check providers.

Key Steps For HR Include:

  • Requiring service providers and independent contractors to undergo the same background-screening process that the company’s employees go through
  • Requiring staffing firms to use a background-screening company that is acceptable to the employer

“Employers need to be careful to make sure the vendor or staffing firm does more than go through the motions,” advised Rosen. Reports should be tracked and documented. As an extra precaution, employers should require the vendor to certify that the report has been scrutinized and all red flags investigated, he added.

“This may seem obvious, but it’s worth clarifying who has the responsibility to review background reports and determine eligibility to work.”

OSHA’s Enhanced Inspections Focus On Workplace Violence Programs

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it is continuing and increasing its Enhanced Enforcement Inspection Program. These inspections will look closely at whether employees may be exposed to workplace violence and whether the employer has established a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program.

OSHA’s enforcement priority is to determine whether employers have taken all feasible steps to anticipate and prevent workplace violence. OSHA is backing up this enforcement priority with increased and enhanced inspections, and also by imposing significant penalties on employers and ordering them to implement comprehensive programs to protect their employees from workplace violence.

There is no specific OSHA safety or health standard concerning workplace violence. However, employers must comply with the OSHA law’s “general duty clause” by providing employees with “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” OSHA uses the general duty clause as a broad catch-all for conditions which OSHA has failed to regulate with a specific safety or health standard.

OSHA uses this catch-all authority for workplace violence. For example, OSHA issued the maximum penalty against a non-profit operator of group homes for developmentally disabled residents after a counselor was attacked at work by one of the residents under her care. In another case, OSHA issued its maximum penalty against a residential care center for individuals with behavioral disorders. OSHA based the citation and penalties on several assaults by patients on the center’s employee-caregivers. In yet another recent event, OSHA fined a substance abuse treatment center after a patient stabbed an employee.

In each case, OSHA focused on the employer’s prior failure to develop, implement and maintain a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program to protect employees from the unpredictable, and potentially violent, acts of patients or residents.

Employers should expect OSHA to always place employee safety ahead of any other considerations, no matter how legitimate, and hold the employer accountable.

Related article: Implementing An Effective Workplace Violence Program

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