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The Ins and Outs of Background Checks

The Ins and Outs of Background Checks

Imagine you hire a physician and it turns out that not only is she not actually a doctor, she’s a bank robber. That’s an extreme example, but it’s a possibility when you hire someone just based on information they provide in a résumé. How do you know the credentials are legitimate and this person doesn’t have a violent history? One way to find out is through a background check.

A background check brings its own concerns though. In this day of identity theft and privacy concerns, how can you get a thorough and legal background check? And are they really necessary?

“If employers don’t conduct background checks and their employee goes on to harm a colleague or harm customers, the employer will most likely face allegations of negligent hiring,” says Vu Do, vice president of compliance at PreCheck, a health care screening company. Also, consider that 53 percent of résumés were found to contain inaccuracies in a survey by AOL Jobs. So, yes, background checks are necessary.

Here are Do’s tips to be sure you’re doing them properly.

Develop a Screening Policy

Before creating the background check itself, you must create a precise screening policy that complies with all local, state and federal laws. This will ensure everyone goes through the exact same process. Because these regulations can change rapidly at the state and local levels, it’s imperative to work with a legal professional familiar with this area.

“Background checks are an essential hiring tool, but employers can’t take lightly their legal duties when using background checks,” Do says. You should work with an attorney to develop a screening policy that is legally compliant and ensures everyone involved in screening, evaluation and hiring are properly trained in their roles, she says.

When it comes time to do the actual screening, she recommends hiring a firm that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. This organization is selective and ensures its screeners are well-trained professionals.

Decide How You’ll Use the Screens

Which jobs require criminal, credit or credential checks? If there is not a federal or state statute that requires a certain type of screening for specific positions in regulated industries then, according to Do, that’s up to you and your judgment as an employer. You will know the job description and whether it makes sense to check certain aspects of a candidate’s background.

When making an employment judgment based on someone’s criminal history, Do recommends following the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2012 guidelines. The EEOC recommends you consider the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense and the nature of the job the employee would be doing. Is a DUI conviction from 2007 relevant to a cashier job in 2017 if no other convictions occurred in the meantime? Probably not.

Credit checks are yet another tool employers can use to evaluate a candidate for a position that involves financial responsibilities, Do says. However, “over 10 states and three cities have passed legislation regulating how and when employers can use credit checks in employment,” she says, so it’s very important to understand legality here. It’s also important to understand how to read and interpret the results of a credit check. What looks like bad information to you may not be. Overall, Do says use of credit checks is declining, so you should check with your attorney and make sure it’s really necessary.

A credential check is required when the job involves some type of professional license or certificate, especially those that expire periodically and need to be maintained. Think doctor, nurse, architect or attorney. It’s important those individuals got the proper education and have passed required licensing exams.

Get Clear on Your Process for Screening

Once you have a policy and know who and why you’re screening, it’s time to decide on timing. “Most employers run background checks after a conditional offer of employment,” Do says. “It makes the most sense economically to conduct them at this point because there’s not a need to incur additional cost for multiple reports on candidates who will not be seriously considered,” she says. Doing a screen once you’ve made the conditional offer of employment also ensures you’re compliant with any “Ban the Box” legislation that may exist in your city or state.

Before running the check, make sure the employee knows that their offer of employment is conditional upon passing the background check. You must make a legally compliant disclosure to the applicant and get their written consent for the screen before ever actually requesting the background check. There’s been an explosion in Fair Credit Reporting Act class action litigation against employers for alleged disclosure violations like adding extra statements to the form, so it’s essential to have that document legally reviewed. Also, you must provide them a copy of their FCRA rights. At the time you order the background check, you also must certify to the screening provider that you have complied with those responsibilities.

What if your new hire fails the criminal, credit or credential check and the results lead you to withdraw your offer? In this case you’ll need to follow the adverse-action duties outlined in the FCRA, Do says. This likely means giving the employee a way to contact the screening provider and appeal any information they feel is inaccurate on their report.

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