Episode 305: Emily the Criminal – An HR Goldmine

In today’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened?!, Paul Edwards sits down with Solution Center Advisor Kristen Hof to discuss running background checks on job candidates. When should you do them, who should you do them on, and should you give the applicant a heads-up before doing so? Stick around for the whole episode to hear about our general fondness for Aubrey Plaza (really, she’s great!), unpaid internships (The Devil Wears Prada isn’t a good template for doing them legally!) and listen to Paul’s unfiltered thoughts on those Equifax settlement checks that we’re all going to retire off of.


Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems.

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want.

Kristen: Hey, Paul.

Paul: Hey, Kristen.

Kristen: How are you doing today?

Paul: I am doing fantastic today.

Kristen: So I just saw a really good new movie. Have you seen Emily The Criminal?

Paul: I have.

Kristen: And I just love Aubrey Plaza. I don’t know.

Paul: Huge fan of her now. Oh, yeah, yeah.

Kristen: Ever since April Ludgate, she’s been my favorite.

Paul: I just wasn’t sure how I felt about this movie as I was going into it. And then at the end, I just loved it. Yeah, it’s like a twist. It’s like the whole thing is just the best.

Kristen: It was great. And a gold mine. Right.

Paul: Let’s go to our gold mine. She just turned out to be a gangster. It’s awesome.

Kristen: So the premise of the story is that Aubrey Plaza plays Emily the criminal. Emily is trying to get a job, and she’s having a hard time because she has a felony on her record.

Paul: Oh, I remember. And then the first mistake happens.

Kristen: Yeah, very, very opening scene. She’s in an interview, and a background check comes up, you know, and it’s an interesting scene because first they ask her about her background and mention that they don’t really do background checks. Mm hmm. But then when she discloses that she has something in her background, finds out they have done a background check on her.

Paul: Oh, so they lie. That’s right. They lied to her. So they played they did the they did the they played they tried to play a trick on her. Mm hmm. Yeah.

Kristen: So what she disclosed was not the full story. So then they used it as a reason to say, well, you’re not being honest with us. We’ve already done this check, and we already know what’s on your record.

Paul: OK, so that was the first one where I was like, this is not how it works in the real world, because you can’t. You can’t. Well, I guess you could, you know, a legitimate background check company will run a background check on your employee for you without your employees signing off on it. Correct. And so in this case, she clearly hadn’t signed off on them doing anything so I guess maybe the inference is they took the information that they had from her.

Paul: They shouldn’t have gathered her Social Security number yet, but they used whatever they had and they ran a background check on her, apparently.

Kristen: Yeah.

Paul: So this is a little bit of a soap opera movie where, you know. Right.

Kristen: Yeah. Did they just Google or did they do a background check? We don’t know. But for whatever reason, they already had this information.

Paul: Okay. So our mistake, number one, I think I know the next one.

Kristen: So that one had to do more with the background. Yes.

Paul: So what’s our guidance on background checks?

Kristen: When should we run background checks?

Paul: We should only run a background check if we were running background checks on everyone. We only run a background check on like the last two or three candidates. If there’s three, then we run it on all three because it might help us make our decision. We don’t run background checks for credit or for financials or anything unless the person is,  unless their job has something to do with running financials and everything.

Kristen: Right. And just to be relevant.

Paul: And just for everybody’s benefit out there. And I always love to throw this in and I’ll share this with you. I just got my settlement from Equifax, so I don’t know if you remember or not, but three or four years ago, Equifax had a breach and they lost all of our information, all that, all of our security numbers, all of our identifiable information was being held by a company.

Paul: And we lost it for two reasons, if I recall correctly. And I, and this is my best of my recollection, they didn’t have our information hashed and they weren’t protecting it properly. So that when they were breached, the people who breached it were able to remove it. And, and what was the other thing? Can’t remember what the other thing was.

Paul: Stock deal. The only other point, and I’m on a little bit of a tangent, I just want to make is that they’re reporting billions of pieces of incorrect old information, so they’re not the greatest source in the first place. But I know you’re wondering how much was my settlement for all of my information being stolen, been given away.

Kristen: What was the big payout? It was 20.

Paul: $2.08.

Kristen: Ooh.

Paul: I just got my check for $22.

Kristen: And I believe I need to go cash that one in myself.

Paul: So in my mind, I think that when a company does something like this, in my mind they should have to borrow money and it takes them ten years to pay it back and them not be profitable or be able to do anything until they make people whole that they stole that, that they, that they didn’t protect.

Paul: Yeah, but that’s just me.

Kristen: That’s a personal opinion personally.

Paul: OK, what were we talking about?

Kristen: Oh background checks.

Paul: Background checks. So who to run background checks on? Please run it on every employee who you intend to hire, right? If you’re going to make a job offer and you make the job offer contingent on it, and we’ve got articles over at CEDR on this, right?

Kristen: Yeah. But do it with their permission. They should know about it. Yeah. And it shouldn’t be until you’re ready to hire them. You know, this shouldn’t be a pre-interview.

Paul: And there’s rules if you’re going to use what you find in a background check with somebody to deny them the position, you have to tell them and give them an opportunity to explain to you. They might say, “That’s not me, that’s my mom, right? It’s my uncle, or…”

Kristen: It might not be them. It might be very old. It might have no relevance to the job itself. Every situation has to really be looked at individually. Yeah, because there’s not just a blanket. Oh, if you have this kind of mark on your record, you can’t work.

Paul: Here, you can’t work here. You have to go back and say, Is this true basically? And give them a chance to reply.

Kristen: Right? So, Emily, in this case, she leaves. She is not happy with how they’ve conducted this. Yeah. And of course, you know, it sets them up from the beginning of a distrustful interaction with this person.

Paul: Terrible interaction, but it’s normal when it happens in the world all the time.

Kristen: Yeah. Yeah. But, you know, for her, even if they had given her that job and, you know, even said, OK, well, we’ll bypass this and give you the job she’s not going to trust them going forward.

Paul: Yeah, that’s not the way to do it.

Kristen: It’s not a good, good foot to start on with an employee. Yeah. Then Emily. Well, her second job interview is a little different. It’s a little more of an illegal venture. So that was just the.

Paul: One where she tried to get the job at the office

Kristen: This part is where she goes into a group setting and the entire group is pretty much asked if they have issues with doing something illegal or not. But they don’t care about anyone’s background.

Paul: Yeah, that one’s.

Kristen: Not so much.

Paul: That would just start with just kind of fun. But I mean, if you’re going to run an illegal thing, you kind of want to check with people and see, are you OK with doing this or not? Right. I think, you know, I think as an HR Practice, it’s reasonable if you’re an illegal entity trying to do illegal things, you need to get buy-in from your employer.

Paul: I think it’s a really reasonable question to ask of the criminals who you’re about to hire to do the criminal thing that you do.

Kristen: Right. So just make sure everyone’s on board now.

Paul: I’ve got to come back to this. One of my first businesses, the first time I ever really had a business, was a window cleaning business. And it quickly grew. I had someone feeding all the work to me and I forgot to ask the question, do you like cleaning windows? When I hired people.

Kristen: Yeah, you know what?

Paul: It’s actually important to take some pride in it. And I didn’t have any kind of questions. I didn’t know that I had asked it. I was like, Do you want to work? Will you work for me and will you work for this amount of money? Right. And then when they weren’t cleaning the windows. Right, I tried to pay them a little bit more because in my mind, if you paid them a little bit more, they do a better job.

Paul: And guess what? That doesn’t work. Didn’t work. You did.

Kristen: OK, all right. OK, so make sure people know what the job entails. Yes, I guess.

Paul: OK, so what would.

Kristen: Be the major takeaway from NATO membership?

Paul: For them? It was a good thing they asked. Yeah, OK. All right. So what’s the net? What’s the next job that she went for?

Kristen: Interview number three, a friend of hers hooks her up and says, Hey, come. You know, we have an opening for an assistant. Come on down.

Paul: It’s like a marketing thing, right? You want to design? It was level design.

Kristen: Yeah, yeah. And she comes in and starts talking to the lady about it and turns out it’s unpaid. It’s an internship. Yeah. So to speak.

Paul: Air quoting it. Yes. The podcasting room right now, there’s a bunch of air quotes.

Kristen: Doesn’t translate to the podcast too well, but you can picture them. Yeah. So then it gets to be.

Paul: Oh yeah, it’s an unpaid position.

Kristen: Should I not be paid to work in this position?

Paul: I was so proud of her.

Kristen: Yeah.

Paul: She was like, so let me get this straight. I’m not going to get paid. And how am I going to live?

Kristen: Mm hmm. Yeah. They weren’t too concerned with that. It was more of the attitude of, well, people want this job, so you should be glad we’re giving you this opportunity to get your foot in the door. Right? However, if that’s not really an internship, then they need to pay their employee.

Paul: They need to pay her. In this particular instance, it’s not an internship. She’s direct support. She’d be doing the work of the business.

Kristen: She was essentially training.

Paul: It would essentially be training. Just, you know, quick just a quick thing on internships out there. It’s OK. I’m going to be a nerd for a second. An internship has to be primarily to the benefit of the person who’s performing the internship and. Right. And, just at a higher level. But keep it pretty simple. If it’s not from an institution of higher learning or connected to it, then it’s not an internship.

Kristen: Right. You can’t just say that. “Oh, you’re lucky to work here. And that’s the benefit to you to get experience.”

Paul: Yeah. Right. Well, you know, I understand there’s some frustration around these rules around this stuff because, you know, somebody might come to you. I actually have a sushi chef who it just blows my mind. And for everybody who’s listening, I love to cook. I was a chef in another life. Well, I was a good cook in another life.

Paul: Let’s call it that. I love to cook. I still pursue it as an art form. I still cook weekly in a commercial setting and do some charitable work. So I really admire what people do. And I guess the point I’m trying to make is, as I would wash his dishes for free to be able to look over his shoulder and see what he’s doing and ask him questions and be like, why did you do it that way?

Paul: And where did that come from? And, oh, that’s why you’re salmon tastes that way. And that would not be legal, right? I could offer but just because I offer as he is the employer, he can’t let me break the rules that apply to him, right?

Kristen: Yeah. And you know, another takeaway that I took from it was, you know, you shouldn’t be approaching it like you’re doing them a favor.

Paul: Yeah. OK, so we as we always do and what the hell just happened? So what the hell just happened in this movie was that someone ran a background check without permission to do it, right?

Kristen: Yeah. And they kind of tried to use it to trick the gotcha. Yeah. Kind of a gotcha for the employee. Not a good not a good first step.

Paul: No, it’s not a great way to create a relationship with an employee, right? Yeah. I mean, like you said, even if she had gotten the job, it would have been a mess after.

Kristen: That, right? Yeah.

Paul: You don’t want to be… nobody wants to come into that.

Kristen: Right. And it’s setting you up for a bad culture going forward with that employee. And then that can even spread.

Paul: And then the second thing was, even if it’s an illegal thing, make sure you ask good questions right? These are behavioral interview questions. Are you OK with doing something illegal? Make sure.

Kristen: They know what the job is.

Paul: Entails. Make sure they know what the job entails and whether or not they want to do it. And then the third thing that we talked about, which was the one that’s really fascinating for me, was the internship thing, right? So, the first thing is, is it a job? And if you’re doing the work of your business, then it’s not an internship, regardless of how much benefit they may gain from getting more experience.

Kristen: Right. Because they would get that experience working as an employee as well. So if it’s not benefiting them in some other way, like through an accredited, you might know better.

Paul: You just made a new word.

Kristen: I made a new word.

Paul: OK, accredited.

Kristen: Accredited through, you know, some schooling of some sort educational situation.

Paul: It has to be a real program that they have to come out of. And we have a whole ‘nother conversation we can have about that because there’s all kinds of little components that need to be there. And we work through this all the time because especially in dentistry, we see a lot of people coming out of school that actually do need to do a bona fide internship, right.

Paul: To meet the requirements of their education before they can then come out and get licensed and start.

Kristen: Right. So it’s very legitimate. Yeah. Places to use that. But, you know, this setting, it reminded me a lot of the old like Devil Wears Prada, kind of you’re just lucky to be here and I can just treat you or.

Paul: I can just treat you like crap and I don’t have to pay you. And, you know, you.

Kristen: Figure it’s not recommended.

Paul: Yeah, not recommended as a way.

Kristen: And Emily didn’t like it either. She didn’t stick around for those situations.

Paul: I really loved her. Yeah, she was great. Yes. So if you haven’t seen the movie, everybody, I would highly recommend that you catch it.

Kristen: Yes.

Paul: All right. Thank you. Thanks.

Kristen: Thank you.

Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, and you’d like us to discuss it on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives.

Feb 28, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

Related Reading
Employee Travel, non – exempt employee, and more
Employee Travel, non – exempt employee, and more

Here are the HR Q&As from our HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center:   Several of my employees are going out of town for an overnight work event. Can I ask them to share rooms to save some money? We’re opening a new office and I want my current...

read more