Best Practices for Background Checks
A recent controversy involving Rutgers University’s newly hired athletic director provides some lessons for association hiring practices.
Julie Hermann was supposed to be the person who would restore the tarnished reputation of Rutgers University athletics—and she may well be. But initially, her hiring has added new questions about the university’s personnel practices. And for any employer, it highlights the need for smart vetting of job candidates.
Last month, Rutgers hired Hermann as the school’s new athletic director and gave her the task of cleaning up a program that was marred by a player-abuse scandal involving former men’s basketball head coach Mike Rice. Little did Rutgers know that just a few short weeks later, they’d have to defend the hire after allegations came out that Hermann, while the head women’s volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee in the mid-1990s, verbally and emotionally abused her players—something that didn’t show up in a background check prior to her selection.
Rutgers continues to stand by its decision to hire Hermann, who starts work on Monday, saying the accusations are unfounded.
Whether true or untrue, the claims against Hermann are show the importance of properly vetting candidates.
“No one wants to have a negligent hiring situation on their hands,” said Patty Hampton, vice president and managing partner at Nonprofit HR. “Background checks help organizations avoid potentially sticky situations, but you’ll find that not all groups follow that type of practice.”
Hampton said specific policies vary among organizations, with some groups requiring background checks for all new hires, and some requiring them only for certain positions.
“Normally you will find groups do background checks for senior-level positions, the executive director, CEO, and president, and any development-type positions—so things like fundraising and accounting,” she said. “They’ll typically be done for any position where the candidate is going to have access to sensitive data and be responsible for the administrative or financial affairs of the organization, or anyplace where there is risk management involved.”
The depth of the background check often varies depending on the level of the position, Hampton said.
She warned that organizations should be aware of federal and state legal parameters governing how deep a background check may go and what kinds of information may be requested. Title VII prohibits employers from considering protected-class status in making hiring decisions, and state laws include other compliance requirements.
“Groups should have a strategy in place with respect to how they conduct background screenings,” said Hampton. “They should be consistent from one candidate to the next, and the organization has to be upfront with candidates about the process.”