“No, we didn’t do a background check on her before we hired her. She seemed like such a nice person.”
“Well, I just ‘Googled’ him, and it looks like he has some sort of criminal record, but I can’t see what it is.”
These are things we occasionally hear from our members on the topic of background checks. Although nobody wants to think the worst of every applicant, it just makes good business sense to look into a person’s background before you make them your employee. This is especially true when you are hiring someone who will have access to your company’s financial records and/or to patient financial information such as social security and credit card numbers. A call that we hate to get here at CEDR, but we do get occasionally, is when a member calls asking for help with a situation where the employee had a criminal history that would show up in a thorough background check. The one caveat is that federal and state laws place some limits on what you can probe into, and what you can do with the information when making employment decisions.
Here are some very basic guidelines to follow when considering whether to incur the cost of background checks. The considerations fall into three main categories: The timing, the method, and what to do with the information.
When and How Should You Do a Background Check?
First, think about your hiring process in terms of phases. You start with a review of résumés or applications, and then you move on to the interview phase, followed by the job offer. Background checks should be limited to candidates to whom you have extended a conditional offer of employment. In other words, background checks should not be used as an early screening tool for all applicants. Inform each of the applicants you interview that all offers of employment are conditional upon the successful completion of background screening. Allow the candidates to withdraw from consideration if they do not want to go through the background check process. The candidates who exercise the withdrawal option have just saved you the cost of a background check that would likely reveal a problem!
Performing background screenings is truly best left to the experts. Trying to locate criminal or other personal records on your own through Google or a public website is inefficient and often results in just enough information to make you curious, but not enough to use in evaluating your potential hire. Employers who conduct self-designed background checks also risk learning information about applicants that they cannot take into account when making hiring decisions, such as marital status, genetic background and disabilities. Also, the types of records you search should be specifically related to the employee’s job duties, and thus the extent of screening will vary depending on the position. For example, you do not need driving records or credit history in order to hire a dental hygienist or nurse, but you might want these records when hiring an office manager. For a clinical employee, you would want to protect your patients by verifying past employment, licensure/certification, and educational background.
You also need to consider who should be screened. To avoid a claim of discrimination against you by a job applicant, decide which positions in your company require background screening, and perform background checks on all candidates to whom you extend a conditional offer of employment for those positions. In other words, do not base your need for a background check on something you see on an applicant’s resume, or on something he or she says during the interview.
Another good reason to have background checks done by an expert is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Among other things, FCRA requires employers to provide notice to applicants and get their permission in writing on a “Summary of Consumer Rights” before doing a background check. CEDR’s referral partner, National Crime Search, performs thorough, individualized background checks with a response time of 24 to 72 hours. As experts in background screenings, NCS makes sure you are in compliance with federal and state laws. Special pricing is available to CEDR members below:
Use Background Check Information Carefully
The trickiest issue of all when considering background checks is what to do with the information. First, background reports should be strictly secured at all times, and distributed to others in your company strictly on a need-to-know basis. More importantly, background checks are considered consumer reports. An employer making employment decisions based on the findings in a background check, therefore, must comply with FCRA regulations, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance, and any applicable state laws.
As stated in guidance issued by the EEOC, employers should be particularly careful with arrest and conviction records, as using this information to screen applicants can result in a discriminatory impact on minorities. Limit the use of such records to situations where the applicant’s criminal offenses are directly related to the job duties as determined by the employer in advance, using all available evidence. Document your justification for excluding candidates with certain types of criminal convictions, and be sure your determination is job-related and based strictly on business necessity. Also, the employer should determine the duration for excluding a candidate with a criminal history, and should consider any employment history subsequent to the criminal conviction. For example, a conviction for felony or misdemeanor theft in the last five to seven years is relevant for excluding a candidate for office or financial manager; a two-year-old conviction for DUI might not be relevant to any job position in your office. Managers and anyone else with decision-making authority in the hiring process must be trained on prohibitions against employment discrimination.
Background checks are often a necessary tool in an employer’s hiring toolkit, but they must be carefully done and the information must be cautiously used. Luckily, your CEDR Solution Center advisors are here to assist you once you have the report in hand.
Three Things You Can Take Away:
- Background checks should be limited to candidates to whom you have extended a conditional offer.
- Background checks are best left to the professionals. Use National Crime Search to take advantage of special pricing extended to CEDR members.
- When excluding candidates based on criminal offenses, be sure that those offenses are directly related to the job duties that have been determined in advance.
Need help? Members may call 866-414-6056 to speak with an advisor. You can also reach NCS toll-free at 888-527-3282. Let them know you are a CEDR referral and they’ll be sure to take good care of you.