Nearshore Americas

The Challenges for Background Screening in Latin America

The culture of conducting background checks, rather than just collecting applicant’s documents information, is gradually becoming more accepted amongst Human Resource professionals in Latin America. Background screening programs are increasingly more common as part of the employee selection process, especially at multinationals that need to align their practices to global standards. Companies that outsource business processes or functions in Latin America will face significant challenges, which we review in this article.

1. Changing selection practices

Socio-economic studies still represent the most widespread practice in the employee selection process. Gathering and validating information, some of which may not even be relevant, may take up less time but it doesn’t provide the drill-down and analysis required from a background check.

The paradigm shift has to do mainly with the concept of risk and reputation. More substantial vetting processes, including employment and academic verifications and/or criminal records searches, although more expensive, can save the company in the long run from the costs of employee turnover, legal claims related to mishandling of data, or toxic workplace issues.

2. Increasing the quality of the workforce

According to the Contracting Risk Index 2019, a report published by MultiLatin on risk in hiring job applicants in Latin America, the degree of inconsistencies in both academic and work experience provided by applicants in Latin America is still very high. More than 10% of applicants lie about their academic background and 22% about their work experience.

Falsifying documents related to university studies or inflating job responsibilities is common. Failure to properly verify such information can, at the very least, expose companies to significant losses of time and money – not to mention the long and expensive process of terminating an employee.

A good background check process is based on confirming the veracity and validity of documents. It can help to identify the best-prepared and reputable applicants for each type of job, filter out applicants with problems or serious inconsistencies in their backgrounds, and attract those that are looking for a secure working environment.

3. Reducing discrimination

Companies with a culture of compliance ensure that their internal processes strictly adhere to local laws as well as integrate best practices regarding individual rights. Having a trusted third party to carry out background check programs helps companies avoid contaminating their selection process with discriminatory criteria.

A background check provider will comply with local laws regarding the use of applicants’ personal information. But beyond that, they will also report any relevant information related to an applicant’s competencies and reputation while excluding any discriminatory criteria such as gender, race or religion. By outsourcing background screening to a reliable provider, companies demonstrate their commitment to the applicant’s rights, create more respectful and inclusive work environments, and raise selection standards.

4. Overcoming flawed or bad practices

In some Latin American countries, insufficient, harmful or even illegal practices have been part of the candidate selection process. In Panama, the sale of professional references is a recurring phenomenon. In Brazil, the use of personal data without the consent of the individual has become widespread. In Mexico, the practice of using socio-economic studies has, on occasion, opened the door to discrimination based on religion or social status.

International companies operating in Latin America should take particular care to respect not only local laws regarding data protection, but also those regarding human rights. It is important to understand, for example, that criteria on using personal information for the purpose of employee selection differ in each country and obtaining such information does not automatically confer the right to use it in a selection process.

David Robillard

David Robillard is President of MultiLatin Background Screening and has more than 20 years of experience advising boards of directors and senior management on integrity and corporate reputational risk issues in Latin America. David is Chairman of the Latin American Task Force for the (NAPBS) - National Association of Professional Background Screeners. You can contact David at info@multilatin.com.

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