Recent high-profile events in the United Kingdom have brought vividly to life the critical importance of organizations thoroughly checking candidate credentials before making a hire. They range from the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by an off-duty Metropolitan Police officer to the disturbing vetting scandal which saw an investigative reporter managing to infiltrate the U.K. prison service. What’s really frightening is that these incidents are likely to be just the tip of a very big iceberg. But before recruiters rush blindly to sign up a screening agency in the desire to create a more secure vetting process, it’s essential they open their eyes to who they’re jumping into bed with. Because not choosing a screening partner carefully could land them in very deep water. 

Growing demand for background screening is resulting in a surge of new companies offering the services, many of which lack knowledge and experience of employment legislation and candidate rights. Coupled with insufficient data protection strategies resulting in candidate data breaches, this situation could plunge recruiters into a nightmare of reputational damage and litigation. In the more litigious environment of the United States, firms practicing in screening law are acting on behalf of candidates to sue screening agencies if correct process isn’t adhered to, resulting in reputational damage to all parties. 

Incoming accreditation

In Europe, candidate rights have been increasingly bolstered by regulations like GDPR and the forthcoming Data Protection and Digital Information bill. Recognizing the significance of this, the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) is set to introduce an accreditation scheme in June, focusing on elevating standards within the screening profession. This scheme aims to empower screening organizations to adhere to best practices concerning GDPR, data protection and candidate rights. The majority of the reputable screening supply companies will embrace this initiative, anticipating that it will distinguish between high-quality services and lesser alternatives. The timing of this initiative couldn’t be better, as it aligns with the evolving regulatory landscape. However, it’s imperative for organizations not to delay action until the scheme’s launch, but rather to proactively inquire and address pertinent issues now.

As vetting becomes more commoditized, with many recruiters opting for a system where you press a button and receive the data, there is a real need to check the source of screening data. For example, some vetting agencies are scraping data from government bodies without permission, while others are doing it in the right way by first obtaining accreditation and approval. Those recruiters that don’t question the data source and compliance procedure are blissfully unaware of the danger they are putting themselves in.

Taking screening companies at face value is a high-risk strategy in an environment where data is the new gold and protection through legislation is on the increase. If there were to be an investigation at any point into rogue screening organizations obtaining data without permission, their recruiter partners could be exposed, damaging their reputation and also potentially opening them to prosecution.

Open and honest

Successfully navigating this new screening minefield means only partnering with agencies that take an open and honest approach and are happy to share their data sources, which should be approved and reliable. As technology becomes more sophisticated and AI more widely used, there are more tools available to grab data automatically from various sources. Companies doing this without permission are also unlikely to have checked the data for veracity and accuracy. The only way to overcome this problem and partner with the most trustworthy screening companies that source the best possible data in the most legitimate way is to determine that there is a robust data sourcing trail. 

Rather than jumping on the first and cheapest data source they can find, the best screening companies carry out in-depth research into an industry. They painstakingly track down the most trusted premier suppliers of data, checking that robust practices are being applied to source with integrity, delivering accurate and compliant data. They are also happy to share details of these suppliers to their clients. These are the screening partners that recruiters should be searching for to ensure they are complying with data regulations, but even more importantly, that their candidate checks are of the highest possible caliber. PBSA accreditation will then add another layer of verification to the mix once it launches. And, if recruiters put in place a strategy now to thoroughly check the credentials of screening companies by drilling down into their data sources, then when the accreditation scheme launches this will provide a further tool to identify reliable, trustworthy screening partners.

Susie Thomson is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Matrix Security Watchdog. 

Originally published Security Magazine | May 2024
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