Pre-Employment Screening

By Paula Santonocito

Young Woman with Magnifying GlassQ. After many years with the same employer, I’m considering looking for a better opportunity. But these days many companies require background checks, drug testing, and even credit checks. I find the whole process demeaning. Is there any way around it?

A.  Even if you have nothing to hide, pre-employment screening can be unsettling. It may seem as though a potential employer is peering into every aspect of your life.

Nevertheless, many companies take these kinds of measures, and they do so for a number of reasons.

Background checks provide information about criminal records and falsified credentials. The goal is to protect the company from a bad hire, and to protect other employees from someone who may be dangerous.

Drug testing likewise tends to be viewed as a safety precaution. Employees under the influence are a risk to themselves, and they can harm others.

Obvious examples include airline pilots and truck drivers. Construction workers, health care employees, and factory workers are also cited as among those in safety-sensitive jobs. Yet, if you think about it, many jobs have overt safety implications. What about the auto mechanic fixing your car brakes? Or your child’s school bus driver?

Companies find drug-testing programs have a positive impact on workplace safety, which in turn also reduces workers’ compensation costs. In fact, one study shows the average company that implements drug testing can reduce workplace injuries by 51 percent within two years, dramatically impacting its workers’ comp ratings.

An added advantage companies cite is that the process improves the quality of job applicants.

Pre-employment drug testing, once reserved for select industries, is today commonplace. According to the American Management Association, approximately 55 percent of all companies test job applicants for illegal drugs.

For what it’s worth, companies that take these measures apply them across the board. For example, if an assembly plant hiring line workers screens one job applicant for drugs it screens them all.

Some companies go even further and apply the same pre-employment procedures to all jobs, whether the jobs are safety-sensitive or not.

There’s the example of a colleague who applied for a senior management position and, to his surprise, had to pee into a cup. Another colleague, a technical writer, had his leg shaved as part of pre-employment screening. (The drug test used hair samples as opposed to urine or saliva.) Both job seekers, like you, were uncomfortable with the screening processes. However, both wanted the jobs for which they were applying and went along with what was required.

In addition to background checks and drug testing, some companies conduct credit checks as part of pre-employment screening. Typically, companies seek credit reports when employees have access to cash, assets, company credit lines, or confidential information. At other organizations, credit checks are reserved for management and executive positions.

What can credit reports tell companies about job applicants?

Whether or not they are financially responsible, and whether or not salary might be enough to cover outstanding debts.

Is such evaluation fair?

Perhaps not, though arguably credit checking can be viewed as a safety precaution. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a person who has access to large sums of money might be tempted to address her own financial shortfall, particularly if her circumstances are dire.

Does pre-employment screening provide a fail-proof method of evaluating job candidates?

Not by a long shot. However, as a tool in a company’s hiring kit, pre-employment screening has been found to be effective.

What does this mean to you?

That pre-employment screening is probably here to stay. And, if you want to seek a new opportunity, odds are that a hiring company will want to check you out, perhaps in more ways than one.

Have a question? Email Paula here.

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