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Employers battle rogue resumes

Barry Nadell pulled up the report on his computer and looked at it again.

Sure enough, there it was.

People who work in the education field are twice as likely to hide the results of a failed drug test on an employment application or resume as those who work in the construction, retail, hospitality or food service industry.

Of 14 major industries, education was the runaway leader in hidden drug tests.

The numbers came to light this week when California-based InfoLink, one of the nation's largest employment screening services, released its 2005 report of employee background screening results.

The report tracked the number of criminal convictions, motor vehicle violations, positive drug test results and prior workers' compensation claims that were not reported on hundreds of thousands of applications and resumes.

The background checks also looked for discrepancies in past employment and education verification.

Among other findings:

Those in the construction industry were more likely than anyone else to hide a criminal record or a motor vehicle violation.

The business services industry had the highest rate of false reporting on workers' compensation history.

Every industry had a high rate of discrepancies involving motor vehicles, whether it was accidents, DUIs, speeding tickets or other offenses.

As for why so many of those applying for work in the education field didn't report failed drug tests, Nadell, who is InfoLink's president, said hiring in education often involves more extensive background checks than other industries, and he drew a link to college campuses.

"I can only surmise that the availability of drugs on campus is far more prevalent than in other industries," Nadell said. "If you're working on campus, you're probably exposed to drugs more than, ... say, if you're working in a hotel."

Nationwide, between 5 and 8 percent of background checks reveal a criminal offense, according to industry analysts, and the business of background checks is growing.

Federal law allows employers to conduct background checks when hiring, promoting or retaining workers, and the number of checks on workers has tripled during the past eight years.

Analysts say that's largely because of security concerns, the increased ease of getting the information, and the lowered cost of running a check, which ranges from $25 to $200, depending on a worker's level of responsibility and the volume of business with an employer.

Not only do background checks help the job selection process, Nadell said, they can protect an employer against lawsuits.

And it's not just entry-level employees who do the misleading.

Radio Shack's president and CEO resigned Monday after it was learned he had false information on his resume.

David Edmondson claimed he had two degrees from a California college, but a check of the school's records showed no degrees, and Edmondson acknowledged the information was incorrect.

"It's a classic example," Nadell said, "but we see it all the time."

Nadell said an example he often uses is the law degree, with transcripts, that he bought for $295 from an Internet company that offers novelty diplomas.

"I had a choice of law schools," he said, "so I picked the University of Southern California because my son went there."

His point is that only a check of university records would have shown he never went there.

Job seekers can make sure their applications are accurate by using one of several self-screening services available online for about $40.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to tell applicants when they didn't get a job based on the results of a background check, although some other excuse, analysts say, is often used.

And background checks are not flawless.

Critics cite privacy issues, the possibility that personal information could fall into the wrong hands and mistakes, which Nadell said are "very, very, rare."

But mistakes can always be made, said Marcia Cohen, a St. Petersburg lawyer who specializes in employment law. "If an employee discovers a company that does background checks is telling the employer they don't have an advanced degree and they indeed do, certainly that has to be brought to the employer's attention."

Still, there is relatively little an employee can do in terms of suing.

"It's too easy," Cohen said, "for the company to say, "One of our folks slipped up.' It has to be intentional."

Tom Zucco can be reached at tzucco@spttmes.com or (727) 893-8247.

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