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Preventing Violence Before It Happens Through Pre-Employment Screening

Violence in the workplace has become an increasingly more common occurrence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its 2004 report entitled Fatal Occupational Injuries by Event or Exposure, 1998-2003, there were 631 documented workplace homicides in 2003. Workplace homicides are the second leading cause of death in the workplace and they make up 16% of all occupational fatalities.

With statistics like these, it is the duty of every employer to make violence prevention a number one priority. Avoiding potential violence should begin with the hiring process. This is the company's opportunity to weed out any violent individuals before they get a foothold in the workplace.

The pre-employment screening process begins with the application. If an applicant omits information or there are gaps of time in the area of job history, the applicant should be instructed to fill in the missing information. If the applicant cannot provide the information, the employer needs to determine when and if it can be provided, note it on the application and then follow through with getting the information if the person selected is to be given an employment offer. Ensure that all of an applicant's information is on hand before any offer is made.

The interviewer will have the most significant opportunity to assess the applicant's stability. Begin with the person's overall physical appearance and grooming. Is it interview appropriate? The next level of assessment involves body language and eye contact. While the applicant is speaking, are they looking you in the eye while answering questions in a relaxed manner? What is your own comfort level during the interview? What is the applicant's response level to questions? Do they answer the questions asked or are they evasive? Do they provide too little information or do they go out of their way to give an elaborate explanation? By discussing what an applicant liked or disliked about the tasks associated with different jobs they held and why they left those jobs, an interviewer can often get a sense of possible aggression towards the company that if pushed far enough can manifest itself in workplace violence.

If the applicant seems acceptable, then the next step is to do a thorough background check. This is the major area where most companies fall short in the evaluation process. If you do not get an immediate response from a past employer or a reference, follow up until you do. Don't assume that the failure is due to being too busy to respond. Sometimes the lack of response is avoidance. It is not unheard of for one company to pass a problem employee off on another. To investigate further, in addition to the telephone background check, you can also examine court records, credit reports and driving records.  However be advised that you need a signed release from the applicant to conduct this type of background screening. Your corporate counsel should be your consultant in the development of any pre-employment screening methodologies to be sure they do not violate existing laws.

Many companies also conduct drug testing as part of their pre-employment screening process. Drug testing identifies individuals who have the potential to become problem employees.  It is easier to eliminate individuals on the basis of failing a drug test prior to employment then it is to terminate them once they have been employed. While drug testing doesn't eliminate all potential problem employees, it does reduce their number.

No matter what procedures you use to screen applicants, the important thing to remember is that you must follow through. If you only make a half-hearted attempt, it's the equivalent of no attempt at all. 

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