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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Edwards

Background Checks, to Run or Not to Run....and When?

Updated: May 26, 2021

Before addressing when you should run background checks, it is important to address whether to run them at all. Many businesses don’t want or need the extra expense depending on the type of industry. Other organizations where employees are responsible for large sums of money or have access to a great deal of customer or client information should consider implementing a background check practice. Once you have decided to run background checks, here are suggested best practices to follow:

  • Mention background checks to the candidate during the interview process (it may save you time if the candidate knows they won’t pass) and if the candidate discloses information during the interview process, refer to your adjudication guidelines or human resource professional on the appropriate response;

  • Ensure the offer letter states that the offer is contingent upon passing a background check;

  • Outline which checks will be performed, (i.e., criminal, credit, MVR) based on the job requirements;

  • Obtain a signed authorization form (it is a Fair Credit Reporting Act requirement); and

  • Initiate background checks only after the candidate has accepted the employment offer.

There are several reasons why running the background checks prior to acceptance of the employment offer is not considered a best practice.

1. You may be violating state law or statute.

Although there is not currently federal law on the issue, some states prohibit the practice of running the background check prior to the offer. Additionally, the “ban-the-box” legislation may apply, which bans an employer from asking certain questions related to criminal history during the hiring process.

2. Background checks are costly.

Thorough background results are not cheap. Don’t waste hundreds of dollars on background checks for candidates that won’t receive an offer of employment.

3. Beware of pre-adverse and adverse action requirements.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires notifying the candidate when the background check information leads to an adverse hiring decision. Awkward situation to pull a job offer that you haven’t even made!

4. You may be setting yourself up for discrimination claims and other problems

The goal of filling a position is to hire the best qualified candidate for the position. If background checks are run inconsistently during the hiring process you may gain more information on one candidate than another that is not pertinent to the qualifications for the position. Additionally, if you normally conduct the background check post-offer, deviating from this practice exposes your organization to liability, including litigation. An applicant may claim discrimination in the hiring process if he or she was chosen for a background check pre-offer and then not offered a position as opposed to an applicant whose background check was run post-offer.

The bottom line to avoiding litigation and employment claims during your hiring process is by ensuring that you are complying with your state laws, following best practices and being consistent. If you don’t currently have a background check policy which outlines an adjudication process, implement one. Such a policy compares the results of applicable background checks to established company standards to determine if an applicant’s background meets those standards.

The key in all employment practices is consistency.

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