You lookin’ for trouble?

No company is completely impervious to troubled employees, but workplace violence experts agree that companies could be doing a much better job of weeding out the bad seeds.

With the proliferation of online employment procedures and rapid hiring during corporate growth spurts, companies have been putting less and less time into evaluating the character, stability and security threats posed by job applicants. In some cases they have even found themselves hiring back troubled individuals who were let go years before.

While at American Express, former vice-president of worldwide security Richard Lefler instituted an employee hiring screening program that looked at education and previous employment history. “Patterns will begin to emerge,” says Lefler of the process. “A criminal record check for the last seven years can often determine a potentially difficult employee. Someone who falsifies his employment history in any way may be an indication of potential problems down the road.”

Background checks can be helpful, but companies shouldn’t place all their faith in them. Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, notes that many crimes that might indicate a violent temperament fall below the threshold of current criminal record checks.

Preemployment verification is also problematic, he says, because references are likely to be “the three people in the world that have something good to say about the guy.” People conducting such checks are also frequently hampered by corporate policies that restrict managers from doing anything more than confirming previous employment.

Dietz suggests that companies focus more on the interviewing process, which can yield a potential wealth of information about an applicant. He says those in charge of hiring should take the opportunity to sit down with the person and get a sense of their personality and attitude, face-to-face.

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