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What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

By Marco Franzoni March 14, 2024

What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

Introduction: The Importance of Conducting Comprehensive Background Checks

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly remote working world, the importance of conducting comprehensive background checks cannot be overstated. For employers, understanding what lies behind the resume is not just about ticking boxes; it’s about ensuring the safety, integrity, and success of the entire organization. Background checks serve as a critical step in the hiring process, providing essential insights into a candidate's history and behavior.

From verifying educational qualifications and employment history to assessing criminal records and credit history, employment background checks are instrumental in making informed hiring decisions. They help mitigate risks, ensure compliance with local laws and federal regulations, and protect against potential liabilities. But what do employers look for in a background check? The answer spans a wide array of checks, including criminal background checks, education verification, employment verification, and more, tailored to the role and the industry.

Adopting a comprehensive background screening process is not just best practice; it's a strategic move that safeguards your organization’s reputation, promotes a safe work environment, and ensures high-quality hires. In this introduction to the nuanced world of background checks, we embark on a journey to explore their scope, legality, and impact on the hiring process. Let’s dive into understanding the intricacies of background checks and how they serve as the backbone of prudent employment decisions.

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What is a Background Check?

Defining Employee Background Checks

An employee background check is a review of a person's commercial, criminal, and (occasionally) financial records. Typically conducted by background check companies, these checks are a cornerstone of the hiring process, enabling employers to verify the information provided by job applicants. The scope of a background check can include, but is not limited to, criminal history, employment verification, education verification, and credit history. These checks help identify any potential risks associated with hiring a candidate and ensure that the person meets the requirements of the position.

What Employers Can Ask About Your Background

Employers are guided by a framework of laws that determine what can be included in a background check. This framework ensures the protection of the candidate's rights while allowing employers to make informed decisions. For instance, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and guidelines set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers can inquire about your criminal records, credit reports, previous employment, and education. However, there are restrictions; for example, access to certain types of information, such as genetic or family medical history, is prohibited under federal laws. Additionally, the relevance of information like credit history or driving records may depend on the job's requirements.

Employers must also obtain written permission from the candidate before conducting a background check, reinforcing the candidate's privacy and rights throughout the hiring process. This process, regulated by applicable laws and federal guidelines, ensures that background screenings are conducted ethically and legally, protecting both the employer and potential employees.

What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

The Legal Framework: Compliance and the FCRA

Compliance: Background Checks For Employment & The Law

Employers conducting background checks must navigate a complex legal landscape to ensure compliance with both federal and local laws. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets the national standard for employment screening, requiring employers to obtain consent from individuals before conducting a background check and to follow specific procedures if the information found may lead to adverse employment decisions. This framework ensures the protection of job applicants' rights while allowing employers to assess candidates' suitability comprehensively.

The FCRA requires company verification

Under the FCRA, employers are obligated to verify that the information obtained from background checks is used for legitimate business purposes only and to ensure accuracy in the reporting of background information. This includes providing candidates with a copy of the background check report and a summary of their rights under the FCRA before taking any adverse action based on the report's contents. Employers must also give candidates the opportunity to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information reported before making a final decision. This verification process, coupled with the requirement to provide a pre-adverse action notice followed by a final adverse action notice, underscores the importance of transparency and fairness in the employment screening process. Compliance with these regulations helps safeguard against discriminatory practices and protects the privacy and rights of individuals, aligning the hiring process with federal law and best practices.

Types of Background Checks Employers Conduct

Employers use various types of background checks to assess a candidate's suitability for a position. Each type of check provides different insights into a candidate's background, helping employers make informed hiring decisions.

Criminal Background Checks

Criminal background checks are among the most common types of checks conducted by employers. They reveal any criminal records, including convictions, incarcerations, and any ongoing legal issues. This type of check is crucial for maintaining workplace safety and ensuring that candidates are suitable for roles that require a high level of trust and integrity. Employers must balance the need for security with fairness, considering the nature of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction, and its relevance to the job role.

Professional License & Education Background Checks

Verifying educational credentials and professional licenses ensures that candidates possess the qualifications and certifications they claim to hold. These checks are vital for roles requiring specific educational achievements or professional licensing, helping employers to avoid fraudulent claims and ensure that their employees have the necessary knowledge and skills.

Work History and Employment Verification

Work history and employment verification checks confirm a candidate's previous employment, including job titles, dates of employment, and reasons for leaving. This type of check helps employers verify a candidate's experience and professional conduct, ensuring they have a history of reliability and competence.

Driving Records

For positions that involve operating a vehicle, checking a candidate's driving record is essential. This check reveals any driving offenses, accidents, or suspensions, helping employers assess the candidate's responsibility and safety on the road.

Financial History

Financial history checks, including credit reports, are conducted for roles that involve financial responsibilities or handling money. These checks help employers assess a candidate's financial reliability and risk of fraudulent behavior. However, employers must ensure compliance with local laws and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when conducting these checks.

Identity Verification

Confirming a candidate's identity is a fundamental step in the background check process. This check verifies the candidate's legal identity and eligibility to work, using documents such as social security numbers and passports. Identity verification is crucial for preventing identity theft and ensuring legal compliance in the hiring process.

These background checks, each serving a unique purpose, collectively provide a comprehensive view of a candidate's background. By conducting these checks, employers can make more informed hiring decisions, ensuring that their new hires are both qualified and trustworthy. Employers must conduct these checks in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, respecting candidates' privacy and rights throughout the process.

What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

How Background Checks Are Conducted

Conducting background checks is a crucial step in the hiring process, ensuring that candidates meet the employer's requirements for integrity, reliability, and professionalism. The process involves several key players and steps to ensure thoroughness and compliance with legal standards.

Background Reporting Companies

Background check companies, also known as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), play a pivotal role in the background screening process. These companies specialize in collecting and compiling background information from various sources, including criminal records, credit reports, employment history, and educational records. Employers partner with these agencies to conduct background checks on potential hires, relying on their expertise to ensure accuracy, legality, and efficiency in the screening process. It's essential for employers to choose reputable CRAs that comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and other relevant laws, ensuring that candidates' rights are protected throughout the process.

How do companies do background checks?

The background check process typically begins with the employer obtaining written consent from the candidate, as required by the FCRA. Once consent is given, the employer provides the CRA with the candidate's information, such as name, date of birth, and Social Security number. The CRA then conducts the requested background checks, gathering information from public records, previous employers, educational institutions, and other relevant sources. The resulting background report is then provided to the employer, who reviews it to make informed decisions about the candidate's suitability for the position.

Hiring for Remote Positions

Hiring for remote positions introduces unique challenges and considerations in the background check process. Employers must ensure that remote candidates undergo the same rigorous screening as in-person candidates, adapting the process to accommodate remote verification of identity and credentials. This might involve using online verification tools and conducting virtual interviews to validate the candidate's identity and qualifications. Additionally, with the rise of remote work, there's an increased emphasis on conducting international background checks for candidates who have lived or worked abroad, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of their background.

By utilizing background reporting companies and adapting their screening processes for remote hires, employers can conduct thorough background checks that align with legal requirements and best practices, ensuring the integrity and safety of their workforce.

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What Can and Can't Be Seen on a Background Check?

Background checks are a pivotal element of the hiring process, offering insights into a candidate's past that might affect their suitability for a position. However, the scope of these checks is governed by various laws and regulations to protect candidate privacy and prevent discrimination.

What employers can see on a background check

Employers can typically view a range of information through a background check, including criminal records, credit reports (for positions where financial responsibility is relevant), employment history, education verification, and driving records. This information helps employers assess a candidate's reliability, integrity, and suitability for the role. For instance, a comprehensive review of criminal history and employment verification enables employers to understand a candidate's past behaviors and work ethic. Similarly, education verification ensures that the candidate possesses the required qualifications for the position.

What are employers restricted from seeing on an employment background check?

However, there are clear restrictions on what can be included in a background check to protect candidates from discrimination and privacy invasion. For example, under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers are typically not allowed to consider a candidate's family medical history, genetic information, or certain aspects of their credit report, such as bankruptcy over ten years old. Additionally, information about a candidate's national origin, sex offenses (in some jurisdictions), and age is protected to prevent discrimination. Employers must also comply with specific state laws that may offer greater restrictions on background checks, ensuring a fair hiring process that respects the candidate's privacy and rights.

This delicate balance between uncovering relevant background information and respecting candidate privacy and rights underscores the importance of compliance with legal standards in the employment screening process. Employers must navigate these regulations carefully, ensuring they conduct background checks that are both thorough and fair, aligning with best practices and legal requirements.

What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

Special Considerations in Background Checks

When conducting background checks, employers must navigate a variety of considerations to ensure the process is both thorough and fair. Certain aspects of background checks require special attention due to their potential impact on employment decisions and legal compliance.

Criminal Record: Impact and Limitations

A candidate's criminal record can significantly influence hiring decisions, especially for roles requiring a high degree of trust and security. However, employers must consider the nature of the offense, the time elapsed since the conviction, and its relevance to the job role. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines encourage a case-by-case assessment to avoid unfair discrimination against candidates with a criminal history. This approach helps balance safety and security concerns with the principles of fairness and rehabilitation.

Education Verification: Ensuring Credentials

Verifying educational credentials is essential to confirm a candidate possesses the qualifications they claim. This step prevents the hiring of individuals with fraudulent degrees or certifications, ensuring that all employees meet the organization's standards for knowledge and expertise. Education verification is particularly critical for positions that require specific degrees or professional licenses, safeguarding the integrity of the profession and the safety of the public.

Consider Conducting Post-Hire Background Checks

Post-hire background checks can be a valuable tool for employers to ensure ongoing compliance and integrity within their workforce. These checks might include periodic criminal background checks, drug screenings, or reviews of driving records for employees in relevant positions. Conducting post-hire checks helps identify issues that could arise after an employee has been hired, such as new criminal convictions or other risk factors, ensuring that the workplace remains safe and compliant with industry regulations.

By carefully considering these special considerations in background checks, employers can make more informed decisions that protect their interests and maintain a fair, transparent hiring process. These practices not only help in identifying the best candidates but also in fostering a culture of trust and safety within the organization.

What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

Implementing a Background Check Policy

Implementing a thorough and compliant background check policy is foundational to any robust hiring process. This policy not only ensures standardization across all hires but also safeguards the organization against potential legal repercussions and helps in making informed hiring decisions.

Create An Employment Background Check Policy

Creating a written background check policy is the first step toward a systematic and fair hiring process. This policy should outline the scope of the checks, the types of checks to be conducted for different job categories, and how the information will be used in hiring decisions. It must also detail the process for obtaining candidates' consent, the rights of candidates under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and how to handle adverse findings. A clear, written policy ensures consistency and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, while also setting clear expectations for both recruiters and candidates.

Make More Informed Hiring Decisions By Performing A Background Check

A well-implemented background check policy enables employers to make more informed hiring decisions. By systematically reviewing candidates' backgrounds, employers can assess the risk and suitability of each candidate more accurately, ensuring that hiring decisions are based on comprehensive and relevant information. This not only enhances workplace safety and integrity but also contributes to a more reliable and effective workforce. Ultimately, a thoughtful approach to background checks, guided by a solid policy, is crucial for maintaining high standards in the hiring process and fostering a culture of trust and professionalism within the organization.

Conclusion: Enhancing Workplace Safety and Compliance

In the realm of employment, conducting thorough background checks stands as a cornerstone of ensuring workplace safety and adherence to compliance. This practice, far beyond a mere formality, is a critical component in making informed hiring decisions that can significantly impact an organization's integrity and success. Through the meticulous vetting of candidates, employers can mitigate risks, align with best practices in employment law, and foster a safe, productive work environment.

Adopting comprehensive background checks, guided by a clear policy and adherence to legal standards, not only protects the organization from potential costly fines and legal challenges but also reinforces its commitment to maintaining a trustworthy and secure workplace. It underscores an employer’s responsibility towards the entire organization and its stakeholders, ensuring that each hiring decision contributes positively to the company's culture and objectives. In essence, the strategic implementation of background checks is indispensable for any organization aiming to thrive in today’s competitive and complex business landscape.

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