Know the law. Jugaad will not work


Jugaad is a word we in India are all too familiar with. Loosely defined, it means using skill and imagination, and some sleight of hand, to find an easy solution to a ticklish problem.

Increasingly, I find, people in other countries also becoming familiar with jugaad. Some day no doubt it will make it to coveted English dictionaries, much like words such as dhaba and bhelpuri. Words quintessentially Indian and so ubiquitously used in rapidly spreading Indian diasporas that familiarity with them for the world at large is inescapable.

The subject of my blog is why background screening must know the law that exists for conducting identity verification. So, what, you might justifiably ask, am I going on about jugaad? Well, here’s why.

We have had specific instances of organisations asking us whether we will conduct background screening on a potential hire without their consent. The law in India doesn’t say about what can and cannot be done in the context of background verification. So, technically if you conducted a background check without the person’s knowledge are you flouting the law?

My view is that more often than not law and its application is about plain commonsense. Would I like my employer to conduct a background check on me without my knowledge? The answer to that is a resounding no. And if a ‘no’ it is, background checks cannot, and should not, be conducted without consent. Yet, some organisations seem to think it is OK to do it. It’s jugaad

We at AuthBridge have had no option but to decline the business of clients who have made these demands. Yet, clearly, they have later found other companies to do the job, which implies that there are screening companies out there who have no regard for a candidate’s privacy. They do this without realising that doing so can seriously impair the employer’s reputation, apart of course from making a mockery of the candidate’s right to privacy.

In several countries there are strict dos and don’ts regarding employment background checks; in the US it’s the Fair Credit Reporting Act, in UK the Data Protection Act, while in Singapore there are privacy regulations. My view is that Indian background screening companies should look at these stringent regulations and follow them scrupulously. That is how they will build a robust reputation for themselves and dutifully serve the needs of their clients.

A competent, and completely scrupulous, background screening company alone will be able to lead a large corporate entity through the maze of legal formalities governing background checks. After all, some district level rulings or laws do not offer any protection or safe harbour from lawsuits despite following the law and giving ex-offenders a second chance.

There are different laws concerning social media, online privacy and records, sexual offence records, non-criminal offences and credit history, among others. Failure to understand and non-compliance can result in expensive lawsuits.

Other things that are country or region specific include:

  • What to do with the background screening data once a report has been generated and sent to the client?
  • What to do if candidates want their own reports directly from the background screener?
  • What should the employer do in case of negative report?
  • And, finally, what should the background screening company do in case its findings throw up something extremely damaging? Something that has ramification for the society, or the country? Should that be reported to law enforcement agencies? Or should the background screener leave it to the client organisation to decide how to handle it?

It is imperative that background screeners both in India and elsewhere come to terms with the need for speed in the growing, sharing economy and keep themselves abreast with global laws and lawful processes. Companies that focus on beefing up their knowledge of matters of law will find themselves better able to serve clients across disparate geographies.

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