Do’s and Don’ts of Employment Background Checks

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

The "Do's"

DO: Obtain Applicant Consent. The first step in pre employment screening is to obtain applicant consent. This isn’t just good advice—it’s also the law, as outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). You must make applicants aware that they will be subject to a background check, and the candidate/employee must sign a written consent form before you conduct the screen.

DO: Make Sure the Background Check Relates to the Job. Establish a clear link between the items you’re screening for in the background check and the job duties. Understand what you “need to know” and what could potentially violate an individual’s privacy rights or cause unfair discrimination.

DO: Apply Your Criteria Consistently. Another way to help keep your company within legal grounds and promote fair hiring is to make sure you apply your policy in a consistent manner. For example, for a particular job category such as “Help Desk Support”  make sure you use the same type of background check on everyone in that job category and that you use the same criteria for assessing the results. You can vary your background checks to make sure they are relevant for the job – but do not vary them within the same job.

DO: Notify Your Applicant of Any Records Found. Before you take any action on the results of a background screen in hiring, promoting, or suspending an employee, make sure you’re aware of the Adverse Action requirements. These requirements are mandated by the FCRA and are very specific about how to notify an applicant of an adverse decision you’ve made concerning the results of their background check.

DO: Consider the Use of Employee Monitoring After Hire: Just because an applicant has cleared a background check, don’t assume that you will know if and when that person might get into trouble once they are in your employ. Monitoring your current employees to make sure you know if an arrest occurs is a growing best practice.

DO: Establish and Publish Your Background Screening Policy. Make clear—in writing—your background screening policy. Detail what types of screens you conduct, and the information for which you’re screening. Make sure you include federal, state and local laws in your guidelines. Additionally, make it clear how you’ll apply your background screening results.

The "Don'ts"

DON’T: Create a Blanket Policy. Fair employment laws require that you only make hiring decisions based on job-related capabilities. Therefore, avoid bright line “no criminal record” policies. Often, old and non-serious convictions have little or no bearing on a person’s ability to fulfill the job obligations.

DON’T: Rely Solely on National Criminal Database Searches. With today’s mobile workforce, it’s wise to conduct criminal searches on a national level to see if there are any criminal activities beyond where your applicant works or worked. But, always back up your national search with a local-level search to verify the results. Otherwise, you’ll risk making decisions on old or potentially inaccurate information.

DON’T: Forget to Screen Your Subcontractors & Temporary Workers. Everyone who works for your company should undergo a background screen. This includes contractors and vendors who are working for you. There is a large body of legal precedent that suggests you can be held liable for anyone who is paid by you; whether they are an employee or a subcontractor.

Percentage of Companies that do Background Checks

Eighty percent of U.S. companies ran criminal checks on job applicants in 2011, compared to about 50 percent of companies in 1996, according to a 2012 report from the Society for Human Resource Management.