5.11.07

Back story

Someone recently asked me in an e-mail message what we do for background check in our partner teams in India. I had some time on my hands so my response was actually decent... I've de-identified it and reproduced it below.

First, it’s important to understand that India as a country is a federation of strong states, not a strong Republic like the USA. My understanding, for what it’s worth, is that Indian Federal law, including employment law, is often weaker and less well defined than their State laws. So, what is true in Karnataka may not be true in Tamilnadu.

It has been alleged to me by both our partners and by my peers in the industry that substance screening in India is not legal. It is certainly not a matter of normal practice. FYI, there are certain organic substances that are deemed to be sacramental to Hindu festivals (particularly Holi) the use of which would disqualify a candidate in the US. There are also over the counter meds in India (as in most countries) that are on our restricted list, and which would show up as red flags (or at least amber flags) in a US substance screen. We don’t substance screen our third party contractors.

We do, however, send on-site contractors from India through screening when they come to the US for extended stays.

Background checks are also quite different. As I mentioned above, India is a federation of states. There is not a unified federal ID database. That is, they don’t have anything analogous to Social Security numbers. There is an evolving federal tax ID, but that’s still of only marginal utility.

Through our partner, we’ve settled on a third party service, through a firm called ONICRA Credit Rating Agency of India Ltd. They screen and verify the following:

* Employment check for last 2 years
* Address verification
* Reference checks
* Education verification
* Police and criminal verification

This allegedly costs around $75 per employee, and is done with human labor rather than databases. They apparently will often go to the former residences, and ask neighbors if the person in question is known to them, and will ask local magistrates whether the person is known to them as a “bad guy”. (in addition to checks against what ever local data repositories might exist)

One approach that other companies have used, but that I don’t support is the “passport proxy”. To get a passport in India you have to go through a detailed screening process, and an in-person interview. So, for the price of the passport application you can get the Indian Government to do the BG check and criminal check for you.

The problem with this approach is that passports are good for 10 years, and renewals are done with lower scrutiny. So all you get for this is the assertion that the employee wasn’t a bad guy some number of years ago. You also don’t get a “report” to keep on file with this methodology, so it’s not really auditable. Better to have a real company do this, in real time.

PS: As editorial, my standard sound-byte when I do my all-hands in India is along the lines of: “MY COMPANY is a service provider to the most highly regulated companies on the planet. If there is a compliance regulation in any jurisdiction on this blue orb, you can bet we’re subject to it by proxy, through our customers. And we sell one thing and one thing only to those customers – Trust. So MY COMPANY ill be the first employer to ask you to go through a comprehensive criminal background check. But if you stay in this industry for any length of time, I can guarantee you we won’t be the last employer to ask this of you.”

So far, no one has protested, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has been flagged as an employment risk. Either the engineers in India are too timid to protest, or they really don’t mind submitting to this process. (Basically, my opinion is that there aren’t as many aggressive libertarians in the software development world in India…)

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