A bad hire can ruin not only your day but your company, too. Hiring an employee who later does harm to a client, by theft or physical assault, can wreck your reputation and result in a lawsuit. Prevent that by making sure your hiring practices are right.

A-I-R Method

Being right is neither difficult nor expensive. First, make sure you use the A-I-R method — for application, interview, references — says Les Rosen, president of Employment Screening Resources, Novato, Calif. Rosen recommends the following.

Application. Have a written application. Make sure you have a place for the applicant to provide information about any criminal record. Make it clear that false or misleading information, as well as serious omissions, will be grounds to end the hiring process or to terminate employment at any time.

Check to see that the applicant signed it and authorized you to perform a background check. Just knowing that you'll do a background check will discourage potential problem employees. Read the application thoroughly. Did the person answer every question? Are there gaps in the employment record?

Interview. Toward the end of the meeting, tell the applicant you do criminal checks and ask if they have any concerns. Some will end the interview right there. Ask what the applicant thinks past employers will say about them and gauge their reactions.

References. Verifying past employment is probably the single most important thing you can do. Check references to make sure that applicants were employed where they claim to have been.

Background Checks

After you verify past employment, conduct at least these additional background checks: Check for criminal records. There's no national criminal database, Rosen says, so you need to check local records. Make sure you get all past addresses for seven to 10 years, he says. Then do a Social Security trace as a backup for past addresses.

A-I-R is free. You can do it yourself. Criminal and Social Security checks are probably best left to professionals. The cost will average perhaps $75 per hire, Rosen says. Internet sources that claim to provide national criminal records don't, he warns. “You get what you pay for.”

By following these procedures, you are demonstrating that you practice due diligence in your hiring, which is the best, and just about the only, defense you will have if a homeowner sues for damages caused by your employee.