Whether it's an employee embezzling from your company coffers or a salesman showing up at a client's home smelling like an open bottle of whiskey, a company that doesn't pre-screen its employees does so at its own peril.

“Unfortunately, in the construction industry people move around a lot and there are people you don't want in your customers' homes,” says Richard Feeley, president of Feeley Mediation & Business Law, in Marietta, Ga. “You could be interviewing someone you think is the cat's meow but two years ago in another state they got into some serious trouble.”

WHAT'S INVOLVED A thorough background check typically involves looking at a candidate's driving history, possible criminal activity, and credit report. There are a number of reputable companies that perform these services for a minimal fee and will reveal everything from address history and home values to bankruptcies and criminal records. Keep in mind, however, that bankruptcies and workers' comp records are a matter of public record; it just takes you or someone in your company doing the legwork, which can be time-consuming.

There are a number of online companies that do basic background checks, but Feeley recommends using a professional firm that knows exactly what to look for. He also cautions against ignoring any red flags, arguing that the only thing worse than not finding a past indiscretion when one exists is finding one and not paying attention to it.

VETTING IN-HOUSE John Aurgemma, co-president of Rhode Island Home Improvement, in Warwick, R.I., says that his company bypasses outside firms and does vetting in-house. RIHI looks at military records, social networks, and has mastered the art of reading between the lines. “What gets on the applications are those employers the candidates are happy with,” Aurgemma explains. “What they leave off is the most damaging. That's who we try to talk to.”

Feeley says that a firm specializing in such investigations can usually do the job for between $50 and $100 per candidate. Online sources are cheaper but likely less thorough. Aurgemma admits that despite his company's due diligence, “there's always the risk you missed something. You do the best job you can and you hope and pray that what you see is what you get!”

—Mark A. Newman is a senior editor for REMODELING, a sister publication of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.