The Importance of Civil Records Background Checks When Hiring Senior Executives

There are notable issues where you latest recruit, the bright candidate with stellar skill sets and a clear background check appears the excellent candidate for middle management or the upper executive level.  This employment candidate is bright, articulate, and he has wonderful presentation skills.   He is charming and well connected, networked forever and an excellent prospect for your company.

But then, several months later, it is discovered that he is the the defendant in several lawsuits.   Old employers are suing him for transgressions.   He might have been a fund raiser that opened his own business on the side,  illicitly siphoning money from donors.  This was the experience several years ago of one major university here in Los Angeles. He may be facing a lawsuit for sexual harassment, or for infringement on proprietary data.   His past employer or former partner may be trying to recover through the courts some money that was "misappropriated."

These are samples of incidents that occur more than one may think.    In most case, it is a straight forward civil lawsuit, meeting all the parameters that would assign such a case to civil court.   But sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.   Sometimes the past employer chooses not to press criminal charges.  Sometimes the belief is that the infractions will not meet the threshold for a solid criminal case but will find resolution in the civil courts, be they county civil courts or the federal civil courts.    An exceptional but noteworthy case in point was the O.J. Simpson murder case, where Simpson was acquitted in the criminal court but convicted of "wrongful death" in the civil courts.   For the most part civil cases aren't nearly as dramatic, but they can prove revealing.

Employers and recruiters often focus on the criminal records background checks, as well they should.   But the fact that an employment candidate is "clear" or had no criminal records does not necessarily mean he can't be a problem or an embarrassment to the company.   As with the case of the fund raiser mentioned earlier who was hired by a major California University, once it came to light he had been caught and sued in civil court for essentially going into business for himself, donations tapered off for awhile in justifiable fear the money would go for naught.   Alumni were less than thrilled that his individual slipped through the cracks during the requisite background check.   Again, this was a case where the past employer choose to sue in civil court rather than make it a greater sensation by pressing for criminal charges.

When your employment candidate has judgments against him in the civil courts,  this can prove embarrassing and cause clients and potential clients to shy away.   Simply put, they are either in fear of being associated or are afraid of being taken over.   The results can be toxic.  Now we are not talking here about some less consequential lawsuit where the candidate's neighbor sues him for damaging the neighbor's lawn.   We are talking about suspicious practices that can range from unethical behavior to the pilfering of proprietary data, embezzlement, and industrial espionage.   As noted before, there are numerous reasons an employer would choose not to sensationalize transgressions by pushing for criminal court.

Just to be clear, these kind of egregious criminal cases are rare.   Most employment candidates have no records in civil courts or if the do it is for the basic troubles of life, like property disputes, divorce, or some spat with a neighbor.   But there are the exceptions.  And the exceptions can be costly if you recruit or hire one and then find out later, from the perspective of civil courts, he is bad news.

Realize too that for the most part his past employers will not provide much information other than verify employment.  The date started, date left, the position held.   That's what you will get for the most part.  Anything subjective, especially anything that has been in the courts or can be potentially litigious is information most employers will retain as confidential.   To expect any employer to be forthcoming about an employee's transgressions is more expectation than reality allows.

For the most part, it is not necessary to conduct county civil court records.   These are not the requisite background check for entry level or lower level employees.  But in the case of senior executives, they are the face of your company.   These are key personnel with whom you clients interact and through whom they develop certain levels of expectation.   Service is certainly one expectation, and ethics is another.   In an economic climate where business is fierce, you cannot have an executive's tawdry reputation smearing that of your company's.   Not a good thing.  For senior executives, county civil court records and federal civil records may be well worth your consideration.


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