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The Need to Screen

On Tuesday, June 13th, Inside Self-Storage and Jeff Greenberger will host the next webinar in the Legal Learning series: "The Benefits and Cautions Involved in Tenant Screening." Most storage operators these days recognize the importance of this practice; but I want to talk for a moment about employee screening, because it's equally critical.

First, let me tell a quick personal story. Late last night, my husband and I went to the post office to unload some packages. I ran inside to use the drop box, while my husband waited in the truck. Out front, there was a guy with a beat up old pickup who was apparently having some mechanical difficulty. I didn't notice him until I was safely back in our vehicle:

"Honey, I think that guys needs help."

"Yeah, well, we're outta here. He looks creepy. He's probably one of those guys who feigns car trouble so he can clock the husband over the head and abduct the wife."

I admit he had a point. We hear stories about these kinds of incidents all the time. It's unfortunate that we need to be so cynical in this day and agebut better cynical than dead. Or holed up in an old well. "It puts the lotion on its skin..." *shudder*

I'm thinking about this because there's an article on today about a self-storage company that agreed to a $150,000 settlement in a lawsuit against one of its past employees. Former manager Edward James Egan was accused of using his position to lure a 15-year-old girl to the storage facility, where he molested her. He was convicted of rape and sodomy and sentenced to 130 years in prison. The girl's family filed a $1.35 million lawsuit against the storage business.

According to the article, the facility owners do not believe themselves liable for the incident; but they settled the dispute at the request of their insurance company to avoid a costly trial. The question of liability is a sticky one, and brings us back to the initial topic of screening.

The owners' attorney claims they did a "reasonable" investigation into Egan's past, calling previous employers and collecting letters of reference. However, a criminal background check would have revealed that Egan had also been found guilty of sexual battery and assault and battery of another 15-year-old girl and her 11-year-old sister in 2004.

On the one hand, employers cannot always be held responsible for the actions and decisions of their employees, even during business hours. But what degree of responsibility does a company have to screen the people it employs? What is your duty, as a storage manager or owner, to ensure the staff members you hire to interact with the public are upstanding citizens?

Let me hear your thoughts on this. What are you managers and operators out there doing to screen your hires? What is reasonable investigation, and what crosses the line into invasion of privacy?

If you'd like more information on this topic, tune into Tuesday's event, which is free!


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