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What To Watch Out For When Hiring And Qualifying Drivers


Editor's note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series on the complexities of hiring and qualifying drivers

Human resources is often the primary contact, but ensuring driver compliance with federal regulations is not its primary function. Between answering health care questions and general record keeping, HR professionals are tasked with developing training programs and handling internal disputes. If it happens in a company, a human resources representative is usually involved.

As time is divided among all these tasks, it increases the chance that an error will be made in the already complicated driver hiring and qualification compliance process. It is a regimented process that requires focus to find and identify discrepancies between various documents. The penalty for a violation can be severe, bring unwanted attention from inspectors onto your fleet, and perhaps most importantly, put unsafe drivers on the roadways.

Yes, the future of your fleet depends on who you hire and how well you vetted that individual in the driver hiring and qualification process.

"The intense number of documents, the focus on specifics of driver qualification compliance, and the heavy personnel load a company needs to dedicate to that [process] is, frankly, the stimulus for hiring [an outside firm]," Byron Adkins, director of fleet safety compliance for Sunbelt Rentals, told FreightWaves.

Adkins said his company, which has over 3,000 drivers – both CDL and non-CDL – and is the second largest rental and sales business in North America, outsourced its compliance processes to J.J. Keller & Associates more than 15 years ago.

"The overall compliance piece at the highest level is focused towards the audit," Adkins said. "That is where ... the federal government comes in and audits your driver compliance files."

Sunbelt handles the initial application process in-house but relies on J.J. Keller to supplement that process and ensure drivers meet all federal regulations. Keller also handles Sunbelt's drug testing program, which alleviates another set of compliance concerns.

"J.J. Keller performs a new driver qualification audit and if any of the items are not proper, they would notify our onboarding team in Fort Mill (South Carolina) for cleanup," Adkins explained. "J.J. Keller provides the audit and the ongoing compliance monitoring which would speak to those regulatory items that have an expiration date (medical files, driver's license, etc.)."

Compliance never ends

Compliance starts with the application and continues throughout the employee's tenure with the company.

To illustrate how large the compliance piece is for HR, consider a midsize fleet of 1,000 drivers with just 50 percent driver turnover (well below truckload industry averages). That fleet would be hiring 500 drivers a year, and likely vetting hundreds more.

"Driver turnover leads fleets to continually generate driver qualification processes, termination processes, etc., and lots of paperwork," Adkins said. "The goal is to maintain regulatory compliance and to ensure we have qualified and safe operators behind the wheel of [vehicles] with Sunbelt Rentals on the door."

There are a number of areas that should be a focus of any qualification process, but it starts with these:

  1. Does the job application meet current needs?
  2. Does the application include what type of equipment the driver operated, years of service, and residency history? (often included as part of the federally mandated commercial motor vehicle addendum)
  3. Are there gaps in employment, and why?
  4. If the driver is applying in one state but lived in another, did you get the motor vehicle record from that state as well?

Once the application is on file, what steps are next? In Sunbelt's case, that is forwarding the information for candidates they are interested in to J.J. Keller for review, although fleets could do this as well. This step will include verification of information as well as background checks.

Be thorough with your checks

The depth of background checks varies. If you are looking to volunteer for your kid's baseball team, you may have paid a $25 fee and completed a check that took about 5 minutes. For a commercial driver, the background check needs to be a little more in-depth. Among the items that should be checked are:

  • Motor vehicle record
  • Safety performance history
  • Pre-employment screening (PSP)
  • Former employers
  • Medical cards
  • Licenses and certifications

Two mistakes often made by fleets conducting their own checks are not following through or waiting for the PSP check to come back, and not verifying information across documents.

Many fleets skip reviewing the PSP since it is a voluntary step, but it can provide vital information about a driver. Until recently, third-party companies could not access an applicant's PSP file, but that has changed, and it now gives that outside firm another tool to use in vetting candidates.

One of the biggest mistakes a fleet can make is not waiting on the results of the PSP, or not reading it correctly and missing a critical piece of information. The PSP includes a lot of information, which is why J.J. Keller now scores PSPs so fleets can understand what information on the document is important and can make a better hiring decision. Improper employment history verification is one of the top violations in compliance reviews, said J.J. Keller, so having someone that can properly read and interpret the PSP is critical.

Importantly, a fleet that attempts to access information such as that on a PSP, but doesn't follow through on the information it receives, will be held liable if there were warnings that should have been identified.

Ensure documents match

The other misstep is not cross-checking documents. Does the applicant list four previous Department of Transportation driving positions but you only have three safety performance histories? Why does the driver's commercial driver's license (CDL) list one driver classification status but the motor vehicle record shows something different?

These are easy discrepancies to miss, but who in human resources is responsible for this, if it's even being checked?

Once a driver is onboarded, compliance doesn't end. There is the tracking of medical cards and drug and alcohol testing, and third parties can handle this for fleets as well. The drug testing protocols alone can be a full-time job, and the addition of the new drug and alcohol clearinghouse adds to that complexity. Is the paperwork legible? What about the driver with the diluted sample, can he/she still drive? Do you have a policy that covers these situations and more?

A third-party company overseeing a drug program for a fleet will ensure that these questions are answered sufficiently, that driver test results are current, and will review the fleet's drug policy to address any concerns or loopholes.

When it comes to medical cards, there are unscrupulous doctors out there that will certify drivers who should not be driving. Does your fleet have the time to track down the doctors and ensure they are certified and listed on the national registry? A third-party company needs only do this research once for all its clients, so fleets benefit from this time and cost savings.

When it comes time to make the decision on whether to outsource driver hiring and qualification compliance, it often comes down to the cost. When considering whether to outsource or not, consider whether your in-house team is large enough and skilled enough to dedicate the time necessary to do the job correctly and ensure 100 percent compliance on each and every hire. Bad hires in the office can be fired, but a single bad hire behind the wheel could result in an accident that costs the fleet millions of dollars in settlements. Using an accredited third-party source (look for accreditation from the National Association of Background Screeners) dedicated to compliance is oftentimes worth its weight in gold.

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