Think about this: Nearly two million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year and, in the United States, fraud committed by employees costs companies approximately $20 billion annually. Workplace theft tops out at more than $120 billion annually.
Property managers have a duty to provide the best people for the job, but with staggering statistics such as these, it’s crucial that anyone hired by a residential association be reliable, trustworthy and dependable. This means that applicants need to go through a rigorous screening process to weed out candidates with records of terminations, disciplinary action, or criminal history. But be careful, because studies show that 30% of applications already contain false information.
According to the HireRight Benchmarking Report (hireright.com), a survey of nearly 1,800 human resources, talent management, recruiting, security, safety and other professionals from organizations of all sizes, most employers require screening in order to maintain compliance with employment laws and regulations, improve the quality of hires, protect their organizations from theft and fraud and reduce employee turnover and workplace violence. These background checks can range from Social Security number verification to employee's history, credit checks and, a peek into their Facebook page.
The Employee Selection Process
Before an employer delves into an applicant's legal and financial history, they must first determine if she or he is the right fit for the position available.
A resume is a first impression of who your applicant is and can say a lot both positively and negatively. What are you looking for? Job stability. Do they stay at their jobs or hop from job to job? For schooling, call any schools listed as well as previous employers to confirm the applicant attended those schools and worked at those businesses. A former boss can tell a caller anything about the performance of the applicant, although most employers have a policy to only confirm dates of employment and final salary.
Nick Oliveri, president of The Dartmouth Group in Bedford, Massachusetts, says that his company hires all of the employees for all the properties that they manage. “We have a job description and we need to see the qualifications. In most cases, the qualifications are our primary concern of the individual,” he says.
In addition to the skills that a potential employee can bring to the table, Oliveri says that there are a couple of other aspects that are taken into consideration.
“When we are looking to hire someone, we look for someone who works well with people, whether it be co-workers or residents. That is what we try to weed through the qualifications of people—are they friendly? Do they have a good attitude? Are they the type of people who are going to be helpful? We also ask them if they are willing to take a personality test, not that this is a criteria for the job, but just to give an indication, where they are on the scale. Do they work better alone or in the team? We try to educate them how to understand condominium management, whether maintenance worker or site manager,” he explains.
He goes on to say an applicant’s lack of specific experience dealing with condominium process may not completely disqualify him or her from candidacy.
“Experience is the key. However, often there are industries that are not related to condominium management, that might indicate to us that they have a skill such as human relations or a maintenance skills that we hone in on,” he says.
Oliveri adds that he calls references such as previous employers, clients or vendors to give him an idea of the applicant’s personal interaction skills, which are vital in property management.
It is key to remember that there are questions you simply cannot ask an applicant during an interview because the questions may be considered discriminatory and can land you in some legal hot water. For example, you can’t ask about race or color. You can ask for their date of birth, but can’t ask them their age. Be careful.
James Butler, president of J. Butler Property Management in Tewskbury, Massachusetts, says that he likes to ask applicants situational questions—what they would do if they were faced with a certain problem. For example, a couple months ago there was a woman who called in the office and said that her neighbor was violating the pet policy.
“Questions like that can tell you a lot about someone... It is not a black and white answer; there are shades of gray, We are looking to see how they would approach the problem,” he says.
A Peek into the Past
Before you even start on a background check, ask for written permission. If an incident on the applicant's check reveals a violation, the majority of employers will definitely do further investigation to determine the nature of the situation. Oliveri says that all Dartmouth employees have a background check conducted prior to hiring.
“If there was a problem for example, on the background check, we do further investigate and it depends on what it is. For example, if someone has a traffic violation, that is one thing—but if it is something more serious, we might not consider them. We are dealing with people's homes, so we need to be careful,” he says.
Once you start that check, know what you’re looking for and where to ask for more information. For example, if your candidate has skipped years of employment, ask them why. Maybe they went back to school, decided to travel or some other explainable reason. Or you may find out that they were incarcerated and you’ll need further information.
“If they worked for four different companies and they stayed only a year at each company, that is a tell-tale sign that they might be hard to please and they are just jumping from job to job. That is one really big red flag that we look for,” says Butler.
Drug tests are a test of urine, sweat, blood, or hair to determine if the applicant has recently been using various substances. Such tests can be a part of a successful employee background check.
Dartmouth does not currently use drug testing but it is under consideration for implementation, says Oliveri.
“That is something where you want to make sure that you are very careful and don't discriminate. You have to check with your HR people to make sure that you are doing that correctly,” he says.
John Reese, senior director of marketing at HireRight in Irvine, California says that his professional screening company comes in when the final candidate has been chosen for the job and the management company is doing their due diligence. HireRight provides 150 background screening services, which are dependent on the employer and the position being filled.
“If you’re serving the elderly or children, you might apply one set of background searches than you would for a different position,” says Reese. “We also make sure our clients’ policies are in compliance with any national guidelines about what they can and cannot do.”
For example, employers must verify the identity and employment authorization of each person they hire. Reese makes sure the companies are in compliant with a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification that verifies individuals who are authorized to work in the United States and must be completed for every hire after November 6, 1986.
Criminal checks are vital. Just imagine hiring a super who enters a business after hours and assaults a young woman working overtime and it’s uncovered later that you didn’t do the criminal check which would have shown they had prior arrests. The liability is huge. Criminal checks—including restraining orders for domestic abuse, civil cases for violent incidents and military, federal and court records—can be completed online or by professional security companies.
“We would look into it more just to see what it was. It could be anything, really. You could have someone that was in a bar fight and was charged with assault and battery but they were trying to defend themselves and got, really, wrongly arrested. It is important to look further into the situation and make an appropriate judgment,” says Butler.
Bad credit? Find out why. Perhaps a divorce or medical issues? If your applicant has no credit, it might be a red flag to a bigger problem. In many states, there are specific requirements for how organizations can use credit checks for employment purposes. At a federal level, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines rules for organizations about how they conduct credit checks for employment purposes.
For example, according to the act, under a background check performed by an outside company, items that cannot be reported for positions under $75,000 per year include bankruptcies after 10 years, civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest from date of entry, after seven years, paid tax liens after seven years; accounts placed for collection after seven years; and any other negative information (except criminal convictions) after seven years.
Some employers are now surfing the net and checking Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other accounts to get an idea of possible new hires’ hobbies, personal lives and former reemployment and schooling. According to HireRight’s survey, 56% use or are planning to use social media during outsourcing and recruiting, while few (11%) report using it in background checks.
Once you’ve hired a new employee, it’s important to keep them trained and up-to-date on the policies and procedures of the building and of their job. The Dartmouth Group instructs and trains new (and current) employees on the aspects of their job.
“We make available to all our managers, in particular, our CAI (Community Associations Institute) courses; we encourage them to go for the various designations that CAI offers. We do pay for industry education. When it comes to the maintenance employees, if they need any specialized training, they will get it. We will periodically, as part of our safety program in the company, have seminars for both managers and maintenance on anything from ladder safety to protective eye wear and equipment. That is an annual thing. We have periodic meetings where we have staff come into the office and we do in-house training or we have a guest speaker to home in on the topic of the day,” explains Oliveri.
Property management may also involve dealing with residents’ personal property and information, so it is important that all employees, new or old are trained to handle those matters properly.
“Any information that we have is totally confidential. Any information that might be related is done through the communication with the board. Each board has a different policy on what information they want to make public. But confidentiality is a must. There might be a time when someone comes up to [an employee] and asks them a question, and we want to make them informed on the information they can and should be discussing. If not, we refer [the resident] to the main office to the site manager who will be able to better answer it for them,” explains Oliveri.
HireRight suggests that you commit to an effective screening program. “Every new hire represents not only a possible liability to an organization in terms of risks of workplace violence, employee theft and turnover, but also a potential advantage,” says Reese.
For more information on professional screeners, visit The National Association of Professional Background Screeners, www.napbs.com.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium. Editorial Assistant Maggie Puniewska contributed to this article.