Imagine that you have conducted a nationwide employment search for the perfect candidate. You think you have someone whose qualifications are unbeatable, you like the candidate’s personality, and you make the hire, feeling pleased with yourself.
In the first week, you find out the person has a criminal conviction that didn’t turn up in your check of Wisconsin Circuit Court Access.
You could have avoided a massive headache by hiring a company like Wons Background Investigations LLC of Little Suamico. The company is a licensed private detective agency, though it’s not about catching wayward spouses in the act, says Jim Schwartz, business development manager at Wons. Rather, it’s a consumer reporting agency that conducts background checks and credit reports, mainly for companies hiring new employees.
Launched in 1998 by owner Bill Wons, the company also runs background checks for nonprofits and their volunteers (such as churches and youth sports leagues where adults will be working with children) and landlords seeking new tenants. But employment background checks are the largest segment of the company’s business. Wons works with about 350 company clients, helping them to avoid hiring disasters that could be costly to their business – and reputation.
Background checks through Wons cost between $12 and $150 per employee, depending on the thoroughness of the check, Schwartz says. Some companies have Wons run checks on everyone they hire, and others choose to investigate only certain employees, such as those dealing with finances.
Business has been good since the recession because companies are hiring again and because Wons added a sales and marketing team. The company has seen about 35 percent growth per year for the past couple of years, Schwartz says.
So, with Wisconsin CCAP and all of the “national criminal background check” offers available on the Internet, why hire a company like Wons to do it for you?
For one thing, when a background check service claims to be national, it really isn’t, Schwartz says. “Nationwide” databases cover only the counties that choose to participate in the service, or about 65 percent. Others decline because of privacy reasons or cost.
Additionally, Wisconsin’s web-based CCAP, the court record system, doesn’t help if a prospective employee lived elsewhere.
“Somebody could have lived in lllinois, moved to Wisconsin and just never tell you they lived in Illinois because if you look you may find a conviction,” Schwartz says.
That’s why Goodwill NCW switched from a Department of Justice system to Wons about five years ago, says Jay Stephany, seeker of talent at Goodwill NCW, which employs about 1,400 workers.
The background check company also provides a kind of customer service you won’t find on the Internet or with a national agency with call centers.
“It’s been a great asset within our group,” Stephany says. “The response rate has been great, the customer service is phenomenal. When we look at vendors that we work with, we keep them to pretty high standards. We want to make sure that they’re aligned culturally with who we are and what we do.”
About 10 years ago, an employee of Goodwill NCW embezzled more than $500,000 from the nonprofit organization. While Goodwill was conducting background checks at the time through the DOJ system, it wouldn’t have helped since the employee had been there a long time and had no criminal background. But using Wons services now helps the organization make decisions about whether candidates would be a good fit for the organization and helps determine which department they are best suited for.
Schwartz says employers need to understand that even convicted felons are a protected hiring class. While the concept of “business necessity” allows employers to avoid hiring a felon whose criminal conviction is directly related to the position for which they are applying, it doesn’t preclude them from eliminating them as a candidate otherwise.
Schwartz stresses that Wons Background Investigations can’t give legal advice, but it does try to update employers on current regulations to help them avoid legal pitfalls.
“We supply the information, and what our clients do with that information is really up to them,” Schwartz says. “But we pride ourselves on our expertise, and we want to give people the information they need to stay compliant with all the laws that are out there.”
While there are some industries that are particularly appropriate for background checks, such as health care organizations that are sending workers into people’s homes or for companies that hire people to work with cash, it works for anyone.
“It’s more the idea of trying to do your best to make the best hiring decision,” Schwartz says.
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