Approaches to Criminal Backgrounds Checks for an International Workforce

May 5, 2021 | Antique Nguyen

In today’s age, the varying laws on conducting criminal background checks across Asia Pacific mean that companies need to adapt their screening measures in accordance with local legislations. The industry, laws, business needs, risk tolerance and global footprint of a company are some of the many reasons why firms choose to implement criminal checks. In recent years, the rise of contingent workers and the increasing globalization of the workforce has called for more employers to reassess whether the candidates they hire are really who they say they are.

Many companies in Asia are currently experiencing employment-related scandals. This is due to cases of employers not checking their candidates properly (or at all), which leads to incidents such as hiring a candidate with a serious criminal conviction or questionable background. In fact, many employers in Asia rely on their candidates’ self-disclosures to obtain information about an applicant’s criminal past. It is no surprise that having full dependency on unvetted claims may prove detrimental to a company. Without giving it any further thought or inspection, why are employers in Asia maintaining blind faith that these claims are accurate?

Consider the following case from a Singapore mega ride-hailing company questioned by the public when news emerged that one of their drivers was accused of verbally abusing a passenger. After carrying out a criminality search on him, the company found that just two years prior to committing the verbal assault, the driver had been sentenced to a two-year jail sentence for several counts of harassing debtors in his former role as a loan shark runner. Unfortunately, because the company failed to conduct the check prior to hiring him, they faced a major public fall-out and loss of trust. Shortly after, the company fired and banned the driver from its network.

Another recent case in Beijing involves a foreign teacher from Canada that had worked at an international school for a whopping six years before being exposed as having once had his qualifications revoked due to sexually abusing students in his home country years prior. Many parents that had enrolled their children at the school were shocked, with one mother of a 7-year-old stating, “How could this happen? I have heard of other cases like this that have happened before.” The mother also added how she had read various posts online about how more parents should be vigilant when choosing to enroll their children into international schools due to rising cases of foreign teachers getting exposed as being convicted or wanted felons in their hometowns.

Another case involves a man from the U.S. that was wanted for stealing a car. He fled to Shanghai on a tourist visa and was able to work as an English teacher for eight years. In fact, his criminal background was only exposed to the Chinese school where he was employed after U.S. authorities notified Chinese police of their suspicions that he was in China. His criminal past may have seriously threatened the safety of the children at the school were he was employed, and the school was deemed as negligent for never conducting a criminal check on him. On some online expatriate forums, topics such as “How to become a teacher with a criminal record” are extremely popular and display users offering illegal advice on how candidates from abroad can hide their criminal convictions from employers when applying for jobs in Asia.

The rising number of cases where employers carelessly hire convicted criminals has aroused widespread and immediate concern. Some have stated that schools must establish a comprehensive and careful check of teachers’ backgrounds and use legal or expertise procedures when recruiting – such as partnering with a background check firm to conduct a criminal check in the country that the teacher currently resides in and any previous residences.

Not only do such incidents reflect the extensive lengths of deception carried out by criminals, but also the long periods of un-detectability that arise when a company lacks or has insufficient screening procedures. Bad hiring decisions can cost your business immensely in terms of losing valuable time, money, reputation and manpower. Harder to measure are the significant costs due to reduced employee morale, client dissatisfaction, lost sales and lower quality output. Your employees will naturally question a bad hiring decision and may even feel unsafe or lose faith in you after finding out that their safety may have been at risk. The undoubtable consensus here is that it costs a lot more to correct a bad hire than to implement criminal checks in your company’s employment process.

Given the importance that criminal checks hold, here are three reasons why firms in Asia should adopt criminal screening:


1. Workplace and Employee Protection

A criminal background check may help reveal a candidates’ criminal past and can help you detect harmful behavior that could potentially pose harm to your business, employees and/or clients. If word surfaces that you failed to protect your workforce from potential danger by hiring a convicted criminal, it can even hold a damaging impact upon the wider organization, such as your employees losing trust. One study has shown that even having just one distrustful employee in your team reduces how much your other employees trust you. Moreover, word may spread quickly if news emerges that your company was involved in a scandal related to a convicted criminal. Garnering bad publicity and market rumors may inevitably deter top talent from applying to the company thereafter. Thus, it is the employer’s responsibility to carry out appropriate background screening on candidates where it is permitted and consented to.

2. Quality Hires

With a considerable number of employees being foreign, as well as the domestic employees that may have a history of working abroad, it is recommended to conduct criminal checks on them to ensure that you have made an informed hiring decision. In fact, research has found that 49% of employers conduct international background checks to “standardize” their quality of hire. Checking the international criminal background of your candidates ensures that they do not have any undesirable attributes stemming from their criminal history, and that they can comply with and suit the company’s professional and moral standards. Another benefit is that it measures a candidate’s morality and truthfulness by allowing employers to verify a candidate’s self-disclosure against the information displayed in their criminal background report. 

3. International Background Screening Regulations and Recommendations

Where some countries in Asia may make it a legal mandate to implement criminal checks based on a candidate’s industry or nature of work, other countries may not, or in fact classify criminal checks as illegal unless there is sufficient evidence to prove that it is necessary. This is often due to the complex and varying regulations surrounding criminal screening and upholding anti-discrimination laws in some countries by maintaining strict access to personal data; such as criminal convictions. However, where criminal screening is allowed, it helps absolve firms from serious liabilities and losses as mentioned above. It is important to note that in most cases of conducting criminal and other background checks, applicant notice and/or consent is usually necessary (among other requirements). Local regulations and laws, however, should always be studied prior to conducting background checks to ensure full compliance.

Alternatively, partnering with an experienced professional background screening organization can help you take the time-consuming, complex and heavy workload off your company when conducting a criminal background check. Cisive is a global background screening firm that can help you bring a necessary level of local expertise to your employment processes around the globe. Our suite of global services offers a streamlined and one-stop shop for everything you need in order to remain compliant and successful in your hiring journey.

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