Fired for a Felony?

The topic of background checks is a concern for many of our colleagues and clients. I noticed an interesting question related to background checks posted on the Society of Human Resources (SHRM) blog:

Q. I recently discovered that one of our newly-hired employees has a felony conviction and served prison time within the past four years for financial fraud and identity theft. Our organization does not conduct background checks nor do we ask about past convictions during the hiring process. I discovered this information by accident as I was looking into this person’s background myself for other reasons. This employee has full access to all of our confidential financial and employee information. Can we terminate this employee for a felony conviction that we never required the employee to reveal?

A. If this is going to be important to the job, you should have required the check. But now, you cannot terminate at this point just because they have the felony on their record.

Is that the answer you anticipated? For me, the more important consideration here is having a policy in place that permits pre- and post-hire screening as well as routine, random screenings of employees. Of course, that requires a signed release from each employee. Make this a part of your hiring process, especially if it is essential to performing the responsibilities of the job.

If you have employees who touch sensitive personal or financial information on a routine basis, such as an HR function or accepting credit cards for payment, a background check policy is important. You need to be as confident as possible that employees will be peforming their jobs in an ethical manner.

For more information on background checks, I found this April 2014 SHRM article to be a good resource.