HR 101: To Background Check or NOT to Background Check

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When it comes to making hiring decisions, the more information you have about a candidate, the better.

More information makes it easier to decide if the candidate will work out, but could too much information be a bad thing?

Many companies conduct some type of background checks, but may wonder if it is legal to delve into an applicant’s personal information. How extensive should these inquiries be? And at what point in the hiring process should they be done? These are very important questions to ask before embarking on background checks.

How relevant are the checks to the position?

Background checks generally include such things as criminal history, driving record, and credit checks. When deciding whether or not to include background checks as a part of your hiring process, you should consider the relevancy to the specific position you are hiring for.

For example, for a cashier that will be working internally you may not need to pull a driving record, but you may want to run background and/or credit checks, depending on the amount of cash they will be handling.

It is worth noting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes a dim view of both criminal and credit checks unless there is a sound business reason for conducting such inquiries. To quote the EEOC:

Any time you use an applicant’s or employee’s background information to make an employment decision, regardless of how you got the information, you must comply with federal laws that protect applicants and employees from discrimination. That includes discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion; disability; genetic information (including family medical history); and age (40 or older). These laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).”

For employers, a fine line to walk

As an employer you want to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for a potential EEOC violation with your background checks.

On the other hand, for certain positions, background checks are not only reasonable, but you may run the risk of negligent hiring claims if you do not do them.

Home health aides, for example, should be thoroughly investigated, to ensure you are not sending someone with a history of violence or theft into a customer’s home. And you will certainly want to check driving records for any individual who will be driving company vehicles or driving personal vehicles on company business, to avoid putting the public at risk and to reduce company liability in the event of an accident.

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Some companies opt to run background checks on only the top candidate, while others screen all viable applicants. Either way is acceptable, although there are pros and cons to each.

Background checks can be costly and the more applicants screened, the higher the cost. If you wait until you have identified your top choice and only screen that individual, you prolong the process, especially if the individual fails the background check and you need to start the search over again.

Some companies find that a good compromise is to run background checks on the top few candidates, a method that can save time and money in the long run.

You simply can’t pick and choose

One last very important point is to be consistent with your practices: You can’t pick and choose who you run background checks. This could lead to claims of discrimination and create major headaches.

If you decide to run background checks on one driver, you’ll need to run them on every driver unless you change your policy at some point down the road.

This was originally published on the Genesis HR Solutions blog.

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