Violence in the workplace is a serious problem. Homicides are a major cause of death among workers, but their impact and cost are considerably outweighed by the prevalence of near-misses, physical assaults, abusive behavior, and threats of violence. One of the most important ways to minimize violent incidents at work is to engage in preventive steps during the hiring process.
These include the following:
- Criminal record checks.
- Substance abuse testing.
- Reference checks.
- Interview techniques.
Criminal Record Checks
Conducting a criminal record check creates minimal exposure if employers only inquire about convictions, not arrests. In most states, it is against public policy for an employer to consider any experiences an applicant has with the criminal justice system, which fall short of conviction.
At a minimum, criminal record checks should be done for certain positions, such as security guards, evening supervisors who may be alone with people, and employees who must carry weapons. Whether an employer expands its criminal record checks beyond these types of positions is really a business decision based on a cost/benefit analysis.
If an employer decides to perform a criminal record check, the employment application must provide notice that the check will be conducted. If an applicant is denied a position in whole or in part because of a criminal conviction (and only a criminal conviction that is job related), the applicant must be notified in writing.
Note: If a criminal record report is obtained from a consumer-reporting agency, employers will be subject to additional requirements under the FCRA.
Substance Abuse Testing
According to recent statistics, substance abuse is closely tied to workplace violence. Employers may choose to conduct drug testing in an attempt to reduce violence in the workplace.
If an employer conducts drug testing, the following procedures should be considered:
- Use an independent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) drug-testing lab.
- Perform these tests consistently, either on all employees, or those employees with a particular job description.
- Ensure the validity of the tests by securing the chain of custody.
- Request a second test to confirm the results.
- Use an independent medical review officer (MRO) to review the results of all of the tests.
Reference checks are a simple exercise for obtaining insight into an applicant’s prior work experiences, ability to work with supervisors, and handle work-related stress. Employers should speak with prior direct supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates when possible in conducting reference checks.
Although employers may feel reference checks only provide neutral information, the failure to conduct this simple exercise may subject employers to a negligent hire claim. Therefore, even if useful information is not obtained through a reference check, an employer should keep a record of any such attempts. Additionally, at the very minimum, employers should always verify an applicant’s educational background.