How employers construct risk and strategies for risk management in relation to hiring new employees
Sociology University of Gothenburg Gothenburg, Sweden
In this paper I examine vocabularies of motive among Swedish employers who check employment-seekers' criminal background. My aim is to show how risks related to hiring new employees and strategies for managing those risks, are accounted for. The data consists of qualitative interviews with employers and with representatives for employers' associations and unions. Special attention is given strategies for dealing with risks that are controversial in Sweden, like criminal background checks and credit ratings. Although still considered somewhat unorthodox, the use of criminal background checks has increased tenfold in Sweden during the last decade. The use of credit ratings in recruitment processes is believed to be less frequent, but the overall access to this kind of data has increased through new ways of dissemination, like Internet websites and databases, which means that it is more accessible to employers.
Researchers within the criminological field have depicted a society that becomes more and more "exclusive" in terms of actors trying to exclude elements and individuals that are considered to be risks of some kind (cf Young 1999). In contemporary Western societies responsibility for risks and risk management has largely been relocated from the state and state agencies to individuals and corporations (cf Garland 2001). This means that individuals' and organizations' actions are understood as risk management strategies. In this paper I show that "risk management" and the desire to be seen as "responsible" are not the only type of accounts that employers use to describe why they chosen particular methods, like for example criminal background checks, drug testing, credit ratings and personality tests, for evaluating employment-seekers. I also show that strategies for "risk management" and responsibility are negotiated against other norms such as employment-seekers' right to privacy and the establishment of trust between employer and employee. It is clear that in order to be regarded as "moral actors" employers' risk management needs to display respect for those values as well the value of responsibility and crime prevention.