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Should You Hire People With Lawsuits Pending Against Them

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

By now, most hiring firms and HR departments know to comb social media for prospective hires, or at least do a cursory Google search. But that might not cover all of your bases.

The Albuquerque Police Department may have learned that the hard way. After the department was ordered to reform its "culture of aggression" within the police ranks, its new hire to head dispatch and provide real-time crime analytics had been sued for using excessive force while conducting a traffic stop as a New Jersey state trooper.

Not a great look for a police department trying to clean up its image, but could it have been avoided?

Bad Background

While Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement that Leonard Nerbetski was hired to run a "high-level smart policing program," Nerbetski had been accused in a 1996 lawsuit of twisting the arm of woman and holding a gun to her head. The state admitted no wrongdoing, but settled the claims contained in the suit (which also included racial profiling) with payouts ranging from $25,000 to $200,000.

It's possible the Albuquerque Police Department was aware of the lawsuit involving Nerbetski before his hire, it's equally plausible they had no idea about the litigation. It all depends on the kind of background check employers perform.

Checking Correct

While it sounds like a luxury only the biggest firms have the resources to do, a background check is something many small businesses can't afford to skip. And not all background checks are created equal. Some are limited only to a candidate's credit, while others can include criminal records, sex offender registries, address history, driving records, and employment history. That may seem like a complete list, but, as the APD demonstrated, adding county, state, and federal court records to list is essential.

Some of those records are available for free online through court websites, but that means searching many, if not all, one by one. And you could sign up for some search resources that can comb court records more efficiently. Perhaps your best bet is choosing a background check company that can provide a full check, including court records and pending litigation. Most cost around $100, which, when put next to the possibility of a bad employee costing your small business thousands, sounds like a deal. As one attorney put it: "If you can't afford a background check, you can't afford to hire."

But make sure you're doing your background checks right. Contact an experienced employment attorney before running your employee background checks.

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