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Background Checks


Conducting Employee Background Checks

Conducting background checks is a necessary part of the hiring process. Businesses that hire employees without a thorough background check are asking for all kinds of problems.

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone would just be forthcoming and transparent during the hiring process? Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and résumés do not always reflect the true character and ability of the job candidate. Employers have to protect themselves, and the bottom line, from people who are less than honest.
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Therefore, it is essential that background checks be conducted at some point during the hiring process. Certainly you will want to verify the person's work history, ask for references from previous employers, and make sure that any necessary state licenses or professional certifications are legitimate and up-to-date.

In addition to these basic references checks, it may also be necessary to conduct more thorough employee screening to avoid liability for negligent hiring. For instance, when hiring people that work with children, it is necessary to do a criminal background check to ensure that the children are kept safe from abuse. Depending on the position that you are trying to fill, it may be necessary to obtain a credit history check, a criminal background check, driving conviction records, educational records, or other kinds of references. However, before you put start digging too deeply for information, make sure that you understand what kinds of information you can and cannot legally obtain without consent.

  • Make sure you understand the law. Each state has its own regulations regarding hiring practices, so you should become familiar with them. However, there are also federal acts to which you must adhere during the hiring process. The three most important acts include the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1971, the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These acts limit how private information can be used during the hiring process. Make sure you become familiar with their requirements.
  • Get written consent. In many instances, potential employees may be carrying on a job search that could jeopardize their current position. Confidentiality is critically important in these circumstances because inappropriate use of information could create yet another liability for you. Therefore, it is necessary that you get written consent from a candidate before you conduct any character investigations or before you request educational records, medical records, or credit reports.
  • Remember this last, and very important, point. Make sure that you treat all candidates and all employees in the same manner by requiring the same standard background checks from all of them. If you run a random criminal background check on only one candidate or employee, you will create a very serious liability for discrimination suit.

Ultimately, background checks are a necessary and tricky part of the hiring process. You need to strike a balance between inadequate checking and inappropriate checking. If you feel at all unsure of yourself, seek the help of a hiring consultant or a lawyer.

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Conversation Board

We greatly appreciate any advice you can provide on this topic. Please contribute your insights on this topic so others can benefit.

Howard 3/15/2007

Regarding employee background checks, what can I do if an employer has run a background check without my written consent?

Ken Gaebler 3/16/2007

My understanding is that an employer is free to do a background check without consent. I don't believe an employer can do a credit check without consent, but that is presumably not what you are asking about. Things an employer can do without consent would include checking references, calling prior employers, Google search, other Internet search for criminal background, etc. You can of course sue the employer, but I don't think you would get very far with it.

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