Background Check Policies – What you should know

Do you require prospective employees to undergo a background investigation? Do you have concerns regarding a candidate’s right to privacy? These are serious considerations to take into account while establishing a company’s policy on pre-employment background investigations.

Recent wisdom suggests that it is better to create guidelines around how your organization will handle adverse information rather than developing a cut and dry policy to determine pass and fail criteria. This approach permits you to handle each investigation on a case-by-case basis and allows for flexibility in cases of extenuating circumstances. For instance, a criminal record does not automatically preclude employment. If a criminal record is found, an HR representative has the obligation to speak with the candidate to determine accuracy and whether or not the situation warrants further consideration, given the circumstances.

More cities, counties, and some states are requiring that employers ask only about felony criminal convictions on the employment application. There are concerns that asking questions regarding broader criminal offenses may adversely influence employers early in the process resulting in discriminatory hiring practices. Depending upon the state you are in, your company may want to eliminate questions concerning criminal convictions from the employment application all together. It is also recommended that background investigations be conducted only when the organization is ready to make an offer. Preferably, a verbal offer should be made contingent upon the successful completion of the background investigation. At that point in the process, it is acceptable to ask the candidate if he or she expects any potentially disparaging information to surface.

To accelerate the hiring process, some employers perform background investigations after the start date of the new employee. While in most situations this order of operation may expedite the start date, it could create more work for the company’s HR department and cause disruptions within the team if disparaging information is discovered that warrants termination. When possible the start date should be set once the individual has been cleared for hire.

There are several options to be considered when determining the appropriate scope of investigation for a particular position. Backgrounds may include criminal history, civil court records, credit reports, verification of employment history and education, driving records and verification of professional licenses. While the level of detail requested may vary by position, it is highly recommended that similar positions be treated in a consistent manner. For instance, a criminal investigation and credit history check may be appropriate for a controller but not necessarily for a driver. All controllers should be subject to the same level of investigation and be treated in a similar fashion as should all drivers but the two different positions can have different criteria from each other. Credit history checks should be used sparingly and only for positions where individuals have access to sensitive financial information or have significant financial or fiduciary responsibility.

    Tips for selecting a vendor to conduct background investigations:

  • When selecting a vendor to perform you background investigations, be aware that different companies offer different services.
  • Do your research so that you are sure to select a vendor that will provide the services your organization requires and help to ensure your organization remains compliant with policies and existing laws in the locations where the investigations will be run.
  • Make certain that the vendor you select is knowledgeable about the authorizations required to run background investigations in each location and is able to make recommendations on how to appropriately notify candidates if disparaging information is found.

The best way to ensure that candidates are treated fairly, and to avoid legal wrangling, is to develop a policy that allows for consideration of all the facts and one that is applied consistently throughout the organization and within specific job groups.

How have you balanced your company’s right to maintain a safe workplace with ensuring fair and equal treatment of prospective employees? We love to hear from our readers! Send us an email or post your comments below.

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As a recruiter, I’m exposed to new opportunities and information on a daily basis. I thrive on learning about new industries, new technology, new positions—and then using what I’ve learned to help make a great candidate-company match.