Business management

Should you be vetting your employees?

Pre-employment screening checks offer peace of mind and are surprisingly affordable; if new data is to be believed, they could save your business thousands of pounds.

It’s not only cyber attacks that are stripping SMEs of their time, reputation and resources; the most common types of fraud in the UK involve the theft of physical assets and misappropriation of funds. And most of the light-fingered culprits are someone who works within the company affected.

“When offering someone a job, you really don’t know them from Adam,” says Norman Mortell, director of operations at Agenda Screening Services. “The interview is an important part of gaining confidence in who you’re hiring, as are the induction and the probationary review, but pre-employment screening is a really good safety net for catching some of the issues that may cause you problems later on.”

While it might sound slightly underhand, it’s worth mentioning early on that screening takes place with the full consent of the candidate. It’s also normal practice only to use it on the person you’re about to offer the job to; there’s no need to waste precious funds checking out everyone who applied.

If you run an SME, it could be a matter of perhaps £60 or less to check that the qualifications of your new office manager, bookkeeper or marketing director are legitimate and that they are legally allowed to work in the UK. If they’re not, you could be liable for fines of up to £20,000.

Credit checks and internet mining

For senior hires, around £250 will let you go a lot deeper. Mortell says screening at this level could involve checking for gaps in a candidate’s employment history, a credit check and quite a high level of internet mining, looking for possible links with terrorists or other political affiliations. “To guard the reputation of the business you might want to make sure they have nothing in their past that may come and bite you in the future,” Mortell says.

Barry Hetherington founded Manchester-based Know Your Candidate in 2009 to offer screening to SMEs who perhaps weren’t very well catered to at the time; businesses that wanted just a handful of screenings per year as opposed to hundreds. Today, for just £7.50, his firm will confirm someone’s identity or, for £12.50, check their qualifications.

Pre-employment screening is very easy to do, and if the candidate is keen, it can take as little as a week or so

Michael Stephens
Head of safety, security and resilience at Medical Research Council

“Pre-employment screening can stop you from hiring two types of problem employees,” says Hetherington. “In scenario A is the ‘bad worker’; there’s no malicious intent but they’re lazy or they don’t have the skills to do the job. By hiring this person you could lose out in terms of recruitment costs, wasted management time, lower productivity and you could put more pressure on the existing team.”

The second type of problem employee, notes Hetherington, has more of an agenda. These people could deliberately lead you to financial losses, a damaged reputation, loss of customers and potential regulatory issues.

Enormous peace of mind

As is the case for all government agencies, new employees of the Medical Research Council (MRC) are obliged to undergo pre-screening checks. Michael Stephens, head of safety, security and resilience at the MRC, says this gives him enormous peace of mind.

“It’s very easy to do,” he says, “and if the candidate is keen, it can take as little as a week or so.”

The MRC already has rigorous processes in place to ensure that only first-rate candidates make it through the application and interview stages, but pre-screening still raises the occasional red flag. “In cases when that happens we’ve gone back to the candidate and are often able to resolve things,” says Stephens, “but there are occasions where we’ve had to say that we can no longer offer them the position.”

Bad hires can happen to anyone. Stephens cites the case – some years ago now – of a temporary employee who came in via an agency, wasn’t screened and then went on a spending spree with a corporate credit card. “He was caught, and it did lead to a number of changes that ultimately led to us making sure that even temporary staff are screened,” says Stephens.

“What SMEs need to do is analyse the risks faced by their business,” sums up Mortell. “By doing this, they will see areas where it would make sense to check out new employees. Given that about 15% of the pre-screening checks we perform result in a red flag, it’s a good idea to know that the person you’re about to offer a job to really is who they say they are.”

Pre-screening on a shoestring

If your budget won’t stretch to pre-employment screening checks, Alison King, director of Bespoke HR, shares a few tips for weeding out potential ‘bad eggs’.

  1. Check for gaps in their employment history. “Make sure you explore this in the interview to fully understand why they may not have been working to find out if there is a reason for concern,” says King. “Don’t be afraid to challenge anything on a CV which raises alarm bells.”
  2. Look at the length of service in previous jobs. “Have they job-hopped?” King asks. “If so, find out why during the interview.” Job-hopping is not necessarily a negative thing, but it’s good to understand the reasons behind frequent switches in employment.
  3. Check their social media presence. It’s now fairly common practice for employees to take a look at candidates’ Facebook and Twitter accounts – although it’s worth swotting up on the legal issues surrounding this first. “Is their profile appropriate as your future employee?” says King. “Look out for clubs or organisations that they may be associated with, particularly if any of these could be damaging to your business reputation.”

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top