Everything You Need to Know About Background Investigations
Battalion Chief Paul Lepore
A thorough background investigation is important because of the role of the fire department in the community. The firefighter candidate will eventually hold a position of authority and responsibility.
Firefighters are welcomed into people’s homes and businesses without fear for their personal safety or their prized possessions. If the candidate is of questionable ethical or moral character, he or she may ultimately become a liability for the hiring agency. This could erode public trust and compromise the department.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that dishonesty by employees costs a business 1 – 2% of its gross sales. Surveys reveal that 33% of employees admit to stealing product or money from their jobs in the last three years. It is estimated that 30% of businesses fail because of employee theft. Statistics also reveal that roughly 40% of applicants have false information on their applications.
Negligent hiring litigation is on the rise. Employers lose 72% of all negligent hiring suits, with the average award to the plaintiff exceeding one million dollars. Most of these are due to the employer failing to take the proper steps to avoid hiring an unfit employee. Courts have ruled that an employer has a general duty to check criminal records for employees who will interface with the public.
Once a candidate has been selected to move on in the hiring process, he or she is assigned a background investigator. Before meeting the background investigator, the candidate is given a background packet. These vary slightly from agency to agency, and are often 25 – 30 pages long.
A candidate is usually given 14 – 21 days to complete the packet prior to the first meeting with the investigator. Candidates are advised to photocopy the packet and fill out the copy in pencil. Once the rough draft is complete, the original is completed in pen or, even better, typed.
Neatness is a characteristic that is important to a background investigator. If he or she is unable to decipher an applicant’s chicken scratch, it makes a poor first impression. A typed background packet, on the other hand, gives the impression of being thorough and complete.
The background packet will seek information relating to all jobs held (including names of supervisors and dates employed), military record including DD214, sealed high school and college transcripts, and a thorough questionnaire regarding drug and criminal history. Applicants will be expected to complete a section that outlines any and all encounters with illegal drugs, including persons involved, dates and times, as well as the number of times he or she has experimented with each substance.
Any omission of information is considered to be covering up and will be viewed as deceitful, which is grounds for automatic disqualification. If a candidate legitimately forgets information, it can certainly cost him or her a job.