Employee screening - an ongoing procedure

June 2004 Security Services & Risk Management

One of the biggest mistakes any company can make is to presume that because it has subjected all employees to a pre-employment screening process, that all will go as merry as wedding bells thereafter in perpetuity - when in fact a significant percentage of fraudulent crimes occur well after the initial employment phase.

"An employee with 10 years' work experience is rarely, if ever, checked out as a potential security risk, yet the empirical evidence is overwhelming that serious fraud is committed by people in important positions which they have held over long periods of time," says Jenny Reid, a director of Griffiths and Associates, a security management company which specialises in employee screening.

Post-employment screening

"Post-employment screening allows employees to quantify the risk to which they are exposed, and then to manage that risk. Regular credit checks, sudden judgments, criminal convictions - these are all developments which a responsible employer should be aware of in their workforce," continues Reid.

The KPMG survey for 2002 showed that in 21% of all cases where existing employees were involved in fraud, their lifestyles changed to a point where it was noticeable, but that these signs were ignored.

"This KPMG figure only relates to the blatantly obvious signs - such as for example, the acquisition of consumer items out of proportion to the employee's salary level - and does not include changes in lifestyle which the employee might be able to hide from direct view of the employer," Reid says.

An employer might start his or her life with a company with a clean criminal record, but then what guarantee does a company have that this will always remain the case?

The slippery slope

A recent post employment screening carried out by Griffiths and Associates for a major retail group showed that 7% of all employees who had started work with a clean record, had, since commencement of employment, acquired criminal records for serious offences, ranging from robbery to drugs - all without the employer's knowledge.

"Drugs are a particularly important sign for which to watch, as substance abuse is always an expensive business which often forces abusers to become increasingly desperate and to use more extreme methods to fund their habit," Reid says.

Once problem areas are identified - and they can range from criminal convictions to credit judgments to domestic crises, all of which can affect an individual's behaviour or raise the possibility of their committing some type of fraud - the issue then arises as to what can be done about the situation.

Courses of action

Despite the constrictions of the Labour Relations Act, if an issue is identified, there are ways of dealing with it in a perfectly legal manner. "A first good course of action is to speak to the individual concerned, and ask them how they can be helped before the situation reaches a point where dishonesty becomes the only way out," Reid says.

"Then there are ways to handle the problem according to the severity of the issue uncovered," she continues. "It is possible to move staff away from areas of risk where their exposure to opportunity is not as high, for example, away from cash handling functions."

"The first sign to watch out for - as confirmed by the KMPG survey - is a change in lifestyle of the employee concerned. This can be either in an upgrade in lifestyle such as the acquisition of material goods - a new flashy car for example; but also in a downgrade in lifestyle. Such signs can be in terms of physical appearance, punctuality, work levels and productivity declines, which are often the surest signs of either substance abuse or domestic crises of one sort or another," Reid says.

It is not only permanent staff who need regular screening - outsourced staff, or sub-contracted companies, also need to agree to independent third party screening. "Cleaners, guarding companies and all personnel who come onto a company's premises, in the same way that permanent staff do, are subject to the same opportunities, stresses and social issues, and therefore need to be treated accordingly," Reid says.

Post employment screening therefore takes on a wider ambit than pre-employment screening. It will deliver to the employer vital information on lifestyles and social issues, apart from the more conventional driver's licence, educational qualification, credit and criminal record checks.

"While pre-employment screening will help companies identify problem areas before they start, post employment screening will ensure that companies can minimise the risk to which they are exposed over the long term," concludes Reid.

For more information contact Jenny Reid, GriffithsReid, 011 786 8556, jenny@griffithsonline.co.za, www.griffithsonline.co.za

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