Abuse Allegation Brings Screening Practices into Limelight

The Handicapped Development Center (HDC) in Iowa is reviewing its pre-employment screening practices following sexual abuse allegations against a former employee. HDC is a non-profit organization that provides community and employment assistance to persons with disabilities. The former employee worked for HDC less than one year before being charged with five counts of third-degree sexual abuse associated with his care of two Special Olympics athletes in May. The former employee has since has been implicated in an apparently unrelated incident of abuse at an HDC residential facility.

HDC has not specifically commented on the former employee’s background; however, the former employee’s name does not appear on a national sex offender list, and he does not have pending cases or previous convictions in Iowa.

HDC requires applicants to undergo a comprehensive background check and pre-employment screening process including checks on criminal background, references, work history, and in-person interviews. HDC’s president said the organization would review its process and make adjustments as needed. “[Nearly 100 percent] of the time, it’s great,” he said. “But predators and alleged predators always seem to find a way through a system, whether it’s through our system or the school system or a church or anyplace else. What we have to do is see where the gaps might be and see if there is anything we can do about it.”

The reality is that HDC may have done everything appropriately in its pre-employment screening process and still hired an inappropriate person. Thankfully, the law does not expect employers to be able to see into the hearts and minds of all job candidates. However, to avoid negligent hiring liability, employers are expected to take reasonable steps to screen candidates before hire where they will be placed in positions of trust and responsibility.