Hiring the Right Chauffeur

LCT Staff
Posted on November 1, 2002

With the increased threats of terrorism and the desire for tighter security, many American businesses are doing what they can in order to provide a safer, more secure environment. This especially holds true for the chauffeured transportation industry. Your chauffeurs are responsible for the lives and the well-being of many individuals who range from corporate VIPs to teenagers. With this great responsibility, operators need to be even more aware of just whom they are hiring and whom they have assigned to transport their clients.

In addition, many state and local regulatory agencies are requiring thorough background checks and drug screening before they will allow a permit to be issued. As an operator, the safety and welfare of your clients is your responsibility.

One of the first things that companies did was look internally and find out where they could make their business more secure for both their clients and their employees. What they started to see is that they needed to ensure a safe and secure environment to both their clients and employees.

"More than anything else it's to protect the people that hire the cars," says George Compas, co-owner of the Brooklyn-based AAA-Allstate Investigative services. "You may have a VIP or a politician and you want to be able to protect that individual. With background checks at least you know that the person driving your client is a reasonably safe person and has not been arrested."

By now, you are well aware of the heightened security screening process that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) requires for airline passengers. Long lines and tighter security processes are something that many of your clients have to deal with regularly. However, they for the most part have come to accept the need for security. When it comes down to hiring chauffeurs, so should you. Operators need to consider what is important to their clients.

"All that clients really care about is their chauffeur and their vehicle," says Cheryl Berkman, president of Music Express. "They make us have a better chauffeur."

As most of you know, on July 4, a limousine operator opened fire in an airline terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, killing two people. Federal investigators concluded that the one-car operator, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, was motivated by his own personal woes than by a political agenda. The question is, could this happen with a chauffeur? How well you screen your employees when they apply for a job can greatly reduce the risk of hiring the wrong person for the job.

It's Who You Know

There has been a greater emphasis on knowing exactly who your employees are. "There has definitely been an increase in pre-employment screening since September 11," says Timothy Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, Inc. "Since then, the big question is who is really walking into your business?"

Gone are the days that you got an application on Monday, interviewed on Tuesday and hired on Wednesday. This should have never been the case, but unfortunately sometimes it was. You can't afford to hire just anybody who wants to work for you.

"You might as well have put the applicants in a room, put a blindfold on yourself and pointed to an applicant and hired them," Dimoff says.

Recently, due in part to the nation's heightened state of security, there's been a bigger push for more thorough screening processes.

"People are realizing that thorough screening is one way to increase your security without too much difficulty," Dimoff added.

The ability for an employer to gain background information is becoming easier. Many services offer to research an applicant's information and produce a complete report. Most reports can come back within a day or two.

Operators need to get this information to get a clearer picture of just whom they are hiring. However, the information gathered (criminal record, driving record, credit report, etc.) should be relevant to the particular job. The federal government has guidelines to protect workers' privacy. The Fair Credit and Reporting Act of 1971 (amended in the 1990s) outlines what can and can't be attained by employers.

"The act was passed to protect individual applicants or employees from background investigation, or what is called consumer reports, says Wayne Hesch, an employment attorney at Berger, Kahn, Shafron, Moss, Fisher, Simon & Gladstone in Irvine, Calif. "It was to override all these guidelines regarding background investigations. It basically says that if you're going to do these investigations for purpose of employment, then it will have to be regulated by the federal government. Some states, like California, have their own requirements. But as long as they comply with the FCRA, there shouldn't be a problem."

With so much information available, operators need to research information that applies to the specific job.

"Someone who's detailing your cars may not need a credit report run," says Dean Suposs, general manager of ADP Screening and Selection Services. "However, I can tell you that there are a lot of companies that don't even check the applicable records."

Arm Yourself With Information Early

Operators who are hiring employees, and most importantly chauffeurs, should get background information early on in the process.

"Employers need to do a better check of an applicant before they even get to the interview process," Dimoff says.

Once an applicant fills out an application, you have all the information and tools that you need to check the person's background right there on the application. It's important for operators to use it.

Finding out information before an interview will allow an operator to ask more specific questions about an applicant. It will allow you to fill in any holes or questions that exist about a person's past. This will also help you to weed out people before devoting time for an interview.

"Doing background checks, you screen out approximately five to seven percent of applicants who are really bad fits due to background information," Suposs says. "Roughly, 93 percent of the time they have a clean record."

Also, arming yourself with as much background information about an applicant before an interview will help guard against the "halo affect." This is where an applicant has a great interview and the employer becomes so impressed with the individual that it doesn't matter what the background check says, they want to hire them. They can do no wrong, hence the "halo."

This can happen often. Just because someone interviews well doesn't guarantee they are right for the job. They may have felony convictions and a DUI on their record. It is best to have that information in front of you before the interview process.

Let Them Know You Will Check

Employers should be up front and honest about background checks. You should let applicants know that you hire safe, competent, professional people. One way that you ensure this, as well as the safety of your clientele, is by conducting thorough background checks.

You can have a separate release form that the applicant has to sign that states that you are going to check that person's background.

"If you put a separate piece of paper out there that's independent from anything else they've ever looked at, there will be a certain percentage of people who walk out of the office without signing it. It should be separate because nobody ever reads the fine print on the bottom of the application," Suposs says. "They don't want you to check their background. That's fine because you don't want them. It all helps you hire a better employee."

Most services that check an applicant's background can check either a particular state or federal, or both. Operators need to consider what information they want to know.

"The choice is theirs," Compass says. "However, the employer has to realize that if they just do a state check, a person's criminal record in another state won't come up on the search."

This may be an important fact for operators working in the New York City area to consider. While the Taxi and Limousine Commission conducts background checks before issuing a chauffeur's license to a driver, the check is limited to only the records in state of New York. If a person has a record in another state, it may not show up on the TLC's check. So an operator may want to have an applicant's background checked federally.

"The key thing for employers is to make sure that they get authorization for release of information from prior employers," Hesch explains. "If they don't get authorization, the past employers are going to give the standard name, job title, pay rate and dates employed information."

Hesch suggests that employers do the following:

1. Get a written description of the job with the essential duties and what is needed (i.e., valid driver's license, ability to be insured, and possibly bonded, etc.).

2. Notify the applicant that you are going to give him or her a drug test. It is not a violation of the American with Disabilities Act to conduct drug tests of applicants. "However, what's important to note is that under the ADA, you are not supposed to have physicals conducted before you hire a person," Hesch explains. "If you do require a physical for the particular job, you need to tell the person 'you are hired on the condition that you pass the physical.' Then conduct the physical." A physical exam should be the last thing done in the hiring process.

3. Have them sign an authorization of a release of information from former employers. That way you can do an in-depth reference check. "Without a signed authorization, the ex-employers are not going to put themselves on the line for potential defamation lawsuits," Hesch says. "If you don't get the authorization, you are not going to get the complete information." According to Hesch, the authorization should say that "I, the applicant. authorize former employer to release any information regarding my past employment. And I don't hold them responsible unless the information is false. " The only restriction is that they can't release false information. It gives the former employer piece of mind, and they are more willing to divulge important information for the new employer in order to make an employment decision.

4. Then give them a separate document authorizing the background check. An applicant would sign the letter notifying him or her that the employer was going to do a background investigation. If there is going to be any employment action based upon that check, the applicant is entitled to a copy. Also, notify the applicant that he or she has the right to dispute any remark by a former employer who they find fault with. However, there is a process for this and the employer should consult an employment attorney or human resources professional beforehand.

It's Not Just Records, References Need to Be Checked

A person's job experience can reveal a lot about a person. Whether they're stable and willing to spend any period of time with a company or if they're more transient in nature. Do they change jobs frequently? Why do they change jobs? Have they ever had any training?

"We're finding that typically the reason why a person doesn't make it in a job is not necessarily due to the background," Suposs says, "but rather, they aren't qualified for the job. You need to check their training."

Operators need to check past employers of applicants to verify what type of employee he or she is. Many chauffeurs move from one limousine company to another within the same market. This means that an operator may have to contact a competitor for references of an employee.

By law, only certain information can be asked by an employer without written authorization by the applicant. A past employer may add any information about the applicant that they want. But without an authorization, this may open that company up to a future lawsuit depending on the information given.

But it's a fine line between telling too much and not telling enough. "You're seeing more and more lawsuits where past employers don't speak up about an employee," Suposs says. "This opens up to problems."

One example is a school district in Colorado that fired an employee because they found out he was a convicted child molester. The school district, in an effort to save face, swept the incident under the rug and did not inform the man's next employer. The man was arrested and convicted for molesting a student at the new school. The new school, and family of the child, found out about the previous district's "secret." They sued and won an $11 million decision.

The importance of checking references is crucial to finding out if an applicant is right for your company.

For operators who run buses in their fleets and maintain a stable of DOT-certified bus drivers, reference checking is not only necessary or important, it's mandatory.

The Department of Transportation is looking to pass a law that states all employers who hire DOT-certified drivers are required to cooperate on references of past employees. This law could be enacted before the end of this year.

"There's been a law for four to five years that requires DOT drivers to check background, criminal, and driving record as well as references," Suposs explained. "However, they didn't put any teeth in it. Now they're going to the next step and making reference checks mandatory."

Fair and Equal Across the Board

It is important for employers to make sure that the hiring process is the same for everyone applying for a particular position. You cannot check one person's background and not another's. This can open your company up for a discrimination lawsuit. You also can't apply different criteria for the same position.

"You can't say that we will not hire anyone that has been convicted of a DUI, but turn around and hire the owner's son who has one," Suposs says. "It's discriminatory."

Criteria and the application process have to be applied fairly and consistently for a particular job category.

Drug Screening In addition to criminal and driving records, operators should screen applicants for the use of drugs. This helps operators know that they have a safe and reliable driver behind the wheel of their vehicles. It also helps with the operator's liability. You have documented proof that this person has passed a drug screening when they were hired.

Many companies continue to do random drug screening for current employees. However, according to Hesch, the general rule for drug testing employees (other then those certified by the DOT) is that they can only be checked for drugs based upon reasonable suspicion. An employer needs to have a reasonable suspicion to order to conduct a drug test.

Many states require drug screening for chauffeurs. Some airports are now passing regulations that in order to attain a permit, operators must show proof that the chauffeur has passed a drug screening.

There are many services available that operators may use to perform the drug screening process. You may check with your health insurance provider and contract with a local hospital or lab. Also, some independent employment screening companies provide this testing for business. AAA-Allstate provides kits that operators can use on their own, and yield fast results.

"Rather than having an individual go out to a laboratory and the employer has to wait anywhere from three to five working days for results," Compas explained. "We have a kit that tests saliva. An operator can test a candidate in an office and get the results back in five to 10 minutes."

It's possible for operators who are hiring a chauffeur to have a person's criminal background, driving record, drug screening, as well as the person's application within 24 hours.

Be sure to inform the applicant that there will be a drug test, and have them sign a form.

Chemistry is a Factor

Another thing that operators need to be aware of when hiring an applicant is do they "fit" with the company's culture. Do they have a work ethic and personality that will bend in well with the company? This can be found out in the interviewing process.

For example, if a person who is applying for a chauffeur job isn't willing to work nights or weekends, then he may not be the best person for the job. Unfortunately, many people who are desperate for a job will agree to do any type of work as long as they get hired. But that can soon change once they are working. Be aware of this when you are looking to hire a person. Turnover can really cost you money.

Checking Needs to Be Done

In today's world of higher security and increased safety, it is important for operators to do their part to ensure a safe vehicle for their clients and a safe workplace for their employees. Thorough screening processes that includes background checks, driving records, drug screening and reference checks need to be implemented into an operator's business. Not only is it safer, but it will save you money by making sure that you are hiring the right person.

"The courts are saying that you must know who you are hiring and who you are putting next to your other employees," Suposs says. "It's a brutal process getting good employees. You just have to do it. There's so much liability at stake when you don't check the background on somebody."

Related Topics: background checks, drug testing, hiring chauffeurs

LCT Staff LCT Staff
Comments ( 1 )
  • eric

     | about 10 years ago

    well if you work for bell limo in reno you wont be there long so it dont matter the longest chauffer wont last more then 3 years there

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