You’ve found a job candidate whom you think is perfect for the position you’re filling. However, hiring employees is a risky proposition. You might be bringing aboard underqualified candidates who could damage your brand’s reputation, or risk liabilities that you assume for that individual’s behavior once they’re on your payroll. Conducting employee background checks can help to minimize these risks, because they can uncover inaccuracies on candidates’ resumes, identify a history of bad behavior, or spotlight candidates who could put your company at risk for legal violations, such as disclosing a candidate’s criminal record, education, employment history, civil records, references, and more.
The benefits of conducting background checks include:
- Increased confidence in hiring high-caliber candidates.
- Seeing reduced employee turnover (along with related expenses).
- Limiting exposure to claims of negligent hiring practices.
A background check is often a final step before hiring to help ensure you’re making a sound decision and protecting you (the employer) from these kinds of potential risks. For many employers, it’s a reliable way to verify claims job seekers make during the hiring process.
Human resources managers want to ensure job candidates are telling the truth about their past. Also, federal and state laws require background checks be conducted for certain jobs. And, background checks help ensure that applicants can do what they claim through employment and education verification and confirm they’re not wanted by the international authorities.
Overall, background checks help protect your company, your employees, and your clients.
Types of Background Checks
Common types of background checks include checking for criminal records, work-status validation, and reviews of social media accounts. You may also ask the candidate to take a drug test, a physical evaluation, or inquire about additional financial information (such as bankruptcies).
Criminal History Check
Arrests show on background checks, depending on the state. Some state laws prohibit employers from asking a candidate about arrest records or using them to make employment-related decisions. However, because arrests are not proof of guilt, they’re unreliable and can be considered unfair when used as a barrier to employment.
Nationwide, 35 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box” laws so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first on an application—without the stigma of the candidate having a conviction or arrest record.
You’ll also need to determine how thorough a background check you want conducted. Fingerprint background checks are an option; however, traditional background checks that confirm names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers, are equally as thorough.
Social Media Screenings
Social media background checks are another option. They can reveal additional information about a potential candidate, such as how they represent themselves online. A social media background check would involve reviewing a candidate’s social media profiles, and it could help to determine whether the candidate would be a good cultural fit within your organization. However, keep in mind that social media only presents one aspect of a candidate’s background and should be seen as offering some valuable insights.
Be Aware of Discrimination
Sometimes it’s within an employer’s legal limits not to hire or to fire a candidate or current employee, because of information found in their background. However, it’s illegal when the employer has different background requirements, depending on the candidate’s race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history), or age (40 or older). For example, an employer who rejects applicants of one ethnicity who have criminal records, but not other applicants with the same criminal history, irrespective of whether or not the information was disclosed in a background report.
Even if the employer treated the candidate equally, as everyone else, using background information can still be considered illegal discrimination. For example, employers should avoid using policies or practices that exclude people with certain criminal records if the policy or practice significantly disadvantages individuals of a particular race, national origin, or other protected characteristic, and doesn’t accurately predict who will be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee. Legally speaking, the policy or practice has what’s considered a “disparate impact,” which refers to practices in employment, etc., that adversely affect one group of people of a protected characteristic more than another, even though rules applied by employers are formally neutral and are not “job related and consistent with business necessity,” irrespective of whether or not the information was in a background report.
FRCA and EEOC
As the employer, become familiar with the laws and guidelines that dictate what you can do with the information you obtain from a background check. This is where you’ll want to rely on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enacted in 1971, to ensure that consumer reporting agencies exercise their grave responsibilities with fairness, impartiality, and a respect for the consumer’s right to privacy. This act protects the subject of a report by putting limits on what consumer reporting agencies can reveal. You’ll also want to refer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (eeoc.gov), which states that it is unlawful for employers to implement a screening policy that disproportionately affects minorities, unless there’s a valid business reason to have that policy in place.
Then, too, it’s important that you also clearly communicate to the job candidate what a background investigation involves. Compliance with FCRA regulations requires you gain the consent of the candidate to run an employment background check. The candidate needs to know which screens will be run when being presented with and signing a clear, concise form giving authorization to the potential employer to run the background check. For example, the candidate could have a similar name or other identifying information as that of another individual. This poses a problem for the candidate. Then, too, the credit reporting bureaus could have erroneously reported the candidate’s status. The candidate’s identity could have been stolen and used by another. If information is amiss, the potential employer is required to send a pre-adverse action notification to the candidate informing him or her of the findings.
The job candidate has rights, too. The FCRA states that the candidate will have the opportunity to dispute any inaccurate information found on their records. First, as a hiring manager, you need to assure the candidate that the job offer will not be rescinded immediately, based on background findings. However, if the candidate can’t explain such findings, you, as the employer, can proceed with your decision not to hire. But before taking this action, it’s wise to seek legal counsel to protect against any exposure to litigation or violations of state or federal law.
Finally, be sure to dispose of findings and records related to the background search. According to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), as the employer, you are required to properly dispose of the findings of background reports and records to guard against unauthorized access to or use of the information.