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Companies hire detectives to snoop on workers

Views 3 Views    Comments 0 Comments    Share Share    Posted 17-12-2008  
December 17, 2008: Don’t be surprised if you find a stranger snooping near your house or inquiring about you with your neighbours and friends.

From Pune to Gurgaon to Bangalore and Mumbai, the recent terror attacks on the country’s financial nerve centre have seen a huge surge in companies hiring the services of detective agencies and other verification services to conduct background checks on employees.

And it’s not just the infotech and business processes outsourcing (BPO) industries that are getting paranoid about nurturing terrorists in their midst. Several new sectors, from hotels to FMCG, finance and insurance are getting serious about getting their employees vetted by experts.

Navin Agrawal, executive director (advisory services) of KMPG, an international professional services firm, says scrutiny was earlier limited only to pre-employment screenings. “Companies now want a detailed background check of even those employed,” he said.

Such has been the flood of queries that KPMG has opened a verification hub in Pune solely for this purpose with 400 employees carrying out checks for a host of MNCs. A senior KPMG official said they have also started physical verifications of employees’ residences.

In Mumbai, Topsgrup, a security provider for firms, says there has been a 48% rise in companies opting for “precedence” checks. “After November 26, about 300 companies have sought background checks on employees,” a company spokesperson said.

Gurgaon-based Authbridge has sealed nearly 15 contracts in the last 10 days. “There has been a substantial increase in inquires over the last week. Even organisations that were not keen on screening employees earlier either due to the cost factor or other reasons now want background checks done,” said Ajay Trehan, chief executive officer of AuthBridge Research Services.

Firms are looking for a thorough investigation involving verification of addresses, validation from neighbours, and police verification. Not only that, investigators are going back to colleges and schools, and previous workplaces to check on an employee’s antecedents. Employees are also being scanned for irregular behavioural traits and substance abuse.

Besides this, vigilance personnel are being roped in to conduct internal checks. “Vigilance officers covertly monitor employees, their conversations and functioning. Computers used by an employee are also audited,” said the Topsgrup spokesperson.
Says Mohandas Pai, member of the Infosys board and HR head: “We have been doing verifications of lateral hires for three years. If we find anything suspicious, we recheck their backgrounds.”

“Earlier we used to do these checks after giving appointment letters. Now we do a thorough check at a much earlier stage,” says Pradeep Bahirwani, vice-president, talent acquisition, Wipro.

These checks do not come cheap. With 125 detectives on the job, Topsgrup says it charges between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 per employee. The fees, however, vary depending on the details sought and the sensitivity of tasks an employee was performing.

Money is not a deterrent for companies when it comes to insuring their information and assets. “If the cost to company (CTC) of an employee is Rs 3 lakh per annum, an additional Rs 20,000 is not much when the information and asset security and, eventually, the reputation of a firm is concerned,” said the Topsgroup spokesperson.
While precedence checks take about 7-8 days, internal monitoring is done on a day-to-day basis.

In Bangalore, the spokesman for one company said though they had a set of rules in place, they are now ensuring implemention. In Gurgaon, companies that were trying to save costs by giving background checks the go-by, are now changing their minds.
“We always had the norms, now we have become very strict in implementing them,” says Raman Roy, chairman and director, Quatrro BPO. “If my car is not checked at the entry point, the security official can be fired,” adds Roy to emphasise the seriousness of the new efforts.

Trehan of AuthBridge Research says the hospitality sector is particularly keen to ensure their staff is above board in all aspects. KPMG too has got offers from leading hospitality chains. Not surprising, since Mumbai’s worst terror incidents since 1993 involved two of the country’s top hotels.

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