A recent audit of the Baltimore County government revealed that approximately 1,200 public employees have never gone through a background check as part of their county job applications. Those lapses have occurred despite a requirement on the books in Baltimore County that every new hire submits to a background check as a condition of their employment. The revelation underlines the need for employers to implement repeat background checks and ongoing monitoring as a means of keeping their staffing files up to date.
As the third-most populous county in the state of Maryland, Baltimore County also has one of the biggest county governments in the state, with thousands of county employees. The 1,200 personnel who have never been adequately vetted account for more than one-third of the county’s total employees. Baltimore County’s lapses in background screening protocols came to light thanks to Inspector General Kelly Madigan's recent audit.
What’s the explanation for the missing background checks? According to Madigan’s report, the problem involves the lack of ongoing monitoring or criminal reporting policies. Like many other employers in the United States, Baltimore County only requires background checks at the time of hiring. The complicating factor, in this case, is that the county did not institute that particular pre-hire background check requirement for all general employees until 2008. As a result, any general staffer hired before the policy went into effect in 2008 has never passed a background check to work for Baltimore County.
Not all longtime Baltimore County employees have managed to avoid the background check. Members of the county workforce involved in public safety work – including police officers and firefighters – have always been required to submit to background checks at the time of employment. For more general positions, though – such as office jobs – the background check policy is less than a decade and a half old.
Madigan noted in her report that Baltimore County has no policy in place to conduct ongoing background checks of its long-time employees. She also suggested that the county implement a requirement demanding that existing employees self-report any new developments regarding their criminal records. “Other jurisdictions have policies to self-report an arrest,” Madigan wrote. “They also have a penalty that if you fail to self-report and someone’s aware of the arrest or the conviction, that can be a basis for termination.”
The inspector general concluded that between the lack of a self-reporting arrest policy and the hundreds of employees with no background checks on file, Baltimore County’s background check policies “were risk factors to the county.” Stacy Rodgers, the county’s administrative officer, concurred with Madigan’s assessment and responded, noting that the county is currently “working diligently to implement best practice background check protocols for county government departments for both promotional candidates and newly hired employees.”
A best practice for any government unit is to require background checks on file for every employee. Thorough vetting of all staff can help avoid issues ranging from abuse of power to misappropriation of funds, which in turn can save governments money, legal trouble, and bad optics.
Furthermore, ongoing background checks are a smart policy for any employer. A background check at the time of hire can tell you a lot, but it is ultimately only a snapshot of a person and their criminal history at that specific moment in time. Any illegal activity after that point will not be represented on the background check. Failure to run additional background checks over the years can risk overlooking serious red flags. Alternatively, in a case such as this where the background check policy was implemented relatively recently, an ongoing vetting system can help ensure that all employees are vetted and that no one “avoids” a background check simply because they were hired 15 or 20 years ago.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer an ongoing monitoring solution that makes it easy for employers to keep tabs on their staff and learn about new criminal infractions if and when they occur. Contact us today to learn more about this vital component of the employment background check process.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments