Dealing with employees who have criminal cases against them
A technology firm in one of the metro cities received a stellar of a CV for their job posting at a very senior level. Post successful interviews with HR and the CEO, the candidate was duly appointed, albeit with a note which said the candidate’s confirmation to the post will only happen upon successful completion of the background check (for any kind of criminal or fraudulent cases). Post investigation by the company and its team, it was found that the candidate was involved in a criminal offence which had led him to spend two days in prison. The circumstances were such that he didn’t get bail as he was arrested on Saturday, and no court proceedings for bail would take place on a Sunday, which was the next day. He was out on bail only on Monday.
According to the law of the land, a government employee will be automatically suspended if he has spent more than 48 hours in police custody. Even if his office or his bosses are not even aware of the case he was arrested for. The government employee will also be suspended if he is arrested in dowry death case, irrespective of how many hours spent in custody. The Police have to inform his superior about his arrest. And arrested employee himself too has the duty to inform his superior as soon as possible. If he hides details of his arrest, he will be subjected to a separate disciplinary proceeding (and punishment). He cannot claim double jeopardy.
But corporates have their own disciplinary committees, and they tackle each issue depending on the seriousness of the cases. However, most companies have zero-tolerance for misbehaviour in and outside the purview of work. Needless to say, even while recruiting, HR teams have stringent checks before getting employees on board. Sometimes, they outsource it to background verification companies to get these done. Authbridge which provides services like due diligence and risk mitigation and background verification, do about 40,000 checks a month. While AMS Inform, another company in the same service, get more than 8000 requests from companies for checking past experience, education, address checks and criminal records. Monthly, AMS Inform get about 1500 cases which deal with checking the criminal cases of the employees.
Sachin Aggarwal, Global Service Delivery Director at the AMS Inform Private Limited said that in case of criminal checks the company offers JUDIS database check or their own propriety database search service called as "CourtCheck" + add on service (in-depth court search). In case they find any criminal records against any applicant/candidate, which would involve getting copies of court cases + FIR where applicable, they also send request letters directly to police stations with jurisdiction over the address of the candidate and request for Verification of Antecedents directly from them.
The verification companies didn’t want to share the details even with anonymity since they have a ‘confidential clause’ with the corporates they work for.
So what happens if they find out that an employee has had a criminal past (proven or not). “It is rather precarious, handling such cases. Going by the rule of innocent until proven guilty, we extend the benefit of doubt to our employees. If the employees provide details of false case by the local police authorities, we invite them back without an iota of doubt. In case of hiring new employees, if the background check confirms they were innocent and trapped in a false case, we invite them on-board without any pre-conceived baggage,” said Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy Communications.
Sameer Walia, Managing Director at The Smart Cube said, “We have not had any case till now and are fortunate, to that extent. That said, if an employee resorts to violence outside the workplace and there is sufficient evidence of that having happened, we will let the person go (terminate services) immediately. One fish can spoil the entire pond and we protect our culture zealously.” However, he also adds that, “Our country’s judicial system as well as law & order machinery can be easily manipulated for the right ‘incentive’; we will not take suo moto action unless there is some evidence of wrong-doing as anything else would be very unfair to the employee.”
Post background screening, what the employers do is beyond the purview of the verification companies. However, Preeta Pradhan, Vice President, Strategy & Marketing at Authbridge point out that, “What does happen is that a percentage of these cases are sent to us for re-verification with either additional information or with a directive that candidate is challenging the report. This does reveal that most clients do inform the candidate of the discrepancy and allow for rebuttal. Whether this is a norm across sectors will be difficult to say especially for indigenous companies. Global companies which comply with FCRA definitely allow for redressal before adverse action.”
The HR department of the many organizations do receive anonymous letters accusing their employees of wrong actions – sometimes false cases of 498A, or even dowry related accusations. So how do companies handle that? According to Ambika, “The relationship between an employer and an employee is rather fragile and needs to be nurtured with trust and respect, even to their personal and private lives. On receiving such letters, we have a close door discussion with the concerned employee and try to understand the nub of the matter. The learning from such honest interactions helps us move forward. Sometimes, we maintain a strict “out of our ambit” policy and sometimes we intervene and help the process in whatever capacity we can.”
And what if an employee has to travel for his/her case hearing, how does the company fill in the absence? Do they have a backup plan during such absence? Companies believe that in whatever circumstances, work cannot suffer. On this premise, Sameer said, “Yes, the company will have a plan in place to ensure that the employee can be on leave during the trial period and at the same time ensure work does not suffer.” Agrees Ambika. Usually companies do support the concerned employee and hence make room for employees to give precedence to their personal affairs, as and when the need arises.
For employees, it is essential to know about the company policies on disciplinary issues before getting on-board. A slight mis-step can ruin the career since corporates have zero-tolerance policy for such cases. What is also important is that, “Just because there is a criminal case against someone that does not mean the applicant is at fault. There are many cases in which a candidate has been acquitted in fast track courts or case is dismissed. It is important to read the details in entirety before making a decision,” adds Sachin.
(The example in the beginning of the story is a work of fiction; any resemblance to any person/profession is a mere coincidence)