Running Background Checks on Job Applicants

A lot of time, effort, and money go into recruiting employees. So you don’t want to make a hiring decision that ends up haunting your company, simply because you failed to do an adequate background check. At best, you’ll have to repeat the hiring process to replace the employee. At worst, you could face a potential lawsuit if your un-vetted employee engages in unethical or dishonest behavior on the job.
That’s why nearly 96 percent of human resources professionals surveyed by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners in 2016 stated their organization conducts one or more types of employment background screening. Eighty-nine percent of survey participants stated they conduct screens to protect employees, customers, and others.

Background Check Dos and Don’ts

Background checks are often viewed as a way to uncover negative information. But a background check can also provide a “clean slate” that may tilt the balance between two equally well-qualified candidates. Checks can also confirm if the information on a resume and what your applicant told you in the interview is accurate.
Here are a few things to consider:
  • Use a broad-brush approach. Look at a wide array of information, which could include an applicant’s education, employment history, criminal records, driving history, and much more.
  • Don’t do it yourself. You can’t get the breadth of information you need simply by Googling the person. Individuals may be limited in how much information they can legally obtain through Internet searches.
  • Hire a pro. Professional screening companies have the experience and resources to accumulate accurate information. The rules vary based on federal, state, and job-specific laws and a good screening company will be up to date on the latest regulations. They can also prevent you from inadvertently viewing data that might be a violation of state or federal laws.
  • Get permission. Have your applicant sign a legal release authorizing the background check. Inform them of their rights and provide them with a copy of the report, along with any notifications of actions you will take based on the contents of the report.
  • Be consistent and fair. Apply the same type of searches and gather the same categories of information on all applicants for the same job.
  • Don’t discriminate. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been taking a harder line on employers who put too much emphasis on criminal backgrounds, particularly if there is evidence they used the information to discriminate in ways prohibited by federal law.
  • Communicate with the applicant. If you find something that gives you pause, ask the applicant about it. It may be an error, or there may be a logical explanation that puts more context around the issue. Face-to-face communications can often prevent misunderstandings.
  • Medical records are off-limits. You can ask your applicants if they are physically capable of performing the job, and if they say yes, you must take their word for it.
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