The Importance of Background Checks and Why They Should Be Conducted More Often

Background checks are very important. They are not only used during hiring processes, but also when volunteering, purchasing a firearm, signing a rental agreement, etc. In fact, you can even run a background check on yourself to make sure that the information shown is accurate, which is probably a good idea to do before applying to jobs, just in case any future employers decide to run one on their candidates. Many businesses use background checks as a form of pre-employment screening in order to find out a candidate’s criminal, financial, and employment history. When it comes to selecting the best candidates to work for a business, employers like to go deeper than just looking at an application or going with what the candidate says during an interview. Depending on how competitive the job market is, candidates are more likely to hide certain aspects of their lives in order to appear more attractive to employers. As a matter of fact, research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows that 50% of resumes contain false information, which is enough reason for employers to be skeptical and want to conduct a background check. Not only do background checks help employers know more about the candidate's’ history, but ultimately they can save the company time, money and stress when it comes to hiring. According to SHRM, the U.S Department of Commerce identifies employee theft as the cause 33% of all business failures, The Department of Justice claims workplace violence accounts for 18% of all violent crimes, and finally, 60% of negligent hiring results in jury awards averaging $600,000 in damages.

So what exactly are employers looking for when conducting background checks? 

Information Found in Background Checks

As mentioned before, there are many reasons for employers to conduct background checks. Jobs that involve work with children, elderly people, those with disabilities, or involve handling confidential information are examples of jobs that require background checks. In some cases, employers go as far as looking through applicants’ social media profiles, such as Twitter and Facebook. Background checks can include everything from criminal history to consumer reports. Depending on the reason for the background check, different data will be available. For employment screening, some of the information that can be found is the following:

  • Criminal Record
  • Sex Offender Records
  • Legal Working Status
  • Social Security Number
  • Driving Records
  • Education Records
  • Credit Reports
  • Bankruptcy Records
  • Court Records
  • Drug Test Records
  • Military Records
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Incarceration Records
  • Property Ownership

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has national standards for employment screening, which means that there is some information that does not appear in background reports. However, the law only applies to background checks that are performed by an outside company, meaning the law does not apply in situations where the employer conducts background checks in house. The FCRA says that the following information cannot be included in background checks or consumer reports: bankruptcies after ten years, civil suits and records of arrest after seven years, paid tax liens after seven years, accounts placed for collection after seven years, and any other negative information after seven years (except criminal convictions). These restrictions do not apply to jobs with an annual salary greater that $75,000. Keep in mind that laws vary from state to state, so employers should always make sure to do their research before running a background check on an applicant or an employee. 

Information For Employees

It is important for employees to know whether the employer decides to conduct a background check, as the employee has legal rights. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces a federal law that regulates background reports for employment, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws against employment discrimination. Depending on the city or state, there may be other rules, so it is always a good idea to check.

A criminal record does not necessarily mean that a person can never get a job. The EEOC has stated that the use of criminal history may sometimes violate title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it happens when employers treat the criminal history differently for different applicants. The EEOC also says that a person cannot be denied employment based solely on a criminal record. The employer should make a decision based on the necessities of the business, which requires the employer to consider the nature and gravity of the offense(s), the time that has passed since the offense was made or the completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job the person is applying for. In fact, the EEOC has extensive guidelines for employers considering the criminal history of an applicant.The Ban the Box movement has been picking up a lot of traction in recent years, putting pressure on employers to remove the check box on applications that require the applicant to divulge information regarding to their criminal background. You can read more on this issue here.

Information for Employers

Employers should always ask for the applicant’s consent before running a background check. Any information that is received from any source should never be used to discriminate in violation of federal law. Before running a background check, an employer should research what information will be available, as information they are allowed to look at varies from state to state. The EEOC requires employers to make sure they are treating everyone equally. Employers should never make a hiring decision based on a person’s race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, age, or any other genetic information. Additionally, the FTC says that if an employer gets someone’s background information, such as credit or criminal history, there are additional procedures the FCRA requires beforehand:
Employers should always get the applicant’s or employee’s written permission to do the background check. 

Employers should let the applicant or employee know that they might use that information for decisions about their employment. This notice must be in writing and cannot be on an employment application. 
Make sure they certify the company which they are getting the report from, that the employer has notified the person and have their permission, that the employer has complied with all the requirements, and that they will not discriminate against the person or misuse the information obtained.

Depending on how much information is being requested, a background check can take longer to process. In most cases it takes anywhere from three days to one week, while others can be processed instantly. The quickest way to get a background check is not necessarily the best way. In most cases, the faster the report is processed, the more errors or inaccurate information the report likely contains. The best way to get a background check is to request it from a FCRA compliant employment screening company such as GoodHire or BackgroundChecks. Keep in mind that no good screening company will release a report for free. Background checks that are free are usually incomplete or inaccurate. 

If at any point an employee thinks a background check was discriminatory, they may contact the EEOC by visiting their website or by calling 800-669-4000. The EEOC investigates and mediates charges of discrimination in the workplace, and they also file lawsuits in the public interest. Employees and employers can find specific information on different topics on their website. 

An employer should always ask for the applicant’s permission before running a background check. If an employer got a background report without permission, or rejected an applicant without sending the required notices, then the person may contact the FTC by visiting their website or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC works to prevent fraudulent and unfair business practices and to provide valuable information to help consumers stop and avoid them.