Background checks: What exactly can employers find out about you?
Background checks: What exactly can employers find out about you?
NEW YORK — Liars, thieves, bad-news-bear execs, drug addicts, you name it — employers really don’t want to hire trouble.
To cover their bases, many companies are hiring third-party screening firms to do a background check that goes well beyond checking your references and verifying your employment history.
Legally, they have to get your consent first. But once they start digging, they can find out everything from whether you have a penchant for drinking and driving to whether you have a hard time paying your bills on time.
Background reports may check for any number of items: criminal records, sex offenses, liens, judgments and bankruptcies, drug test results, as well as your education and income history.
And some items in a background check are very job-specific. For instance, if you’re applying to be a truck driver or a traveling salesman, they may check your driving record to see if you’ve had any serious violations, such as DUIs, or if your license has ever been revoked.
Want to work for the financial services industry? They may run your credit report. While credit report requests have been on the decline — and some states now prohibit employers from using them altogether — federal guidelines allow employers to access credit reports as long as they have a “compelling business rationale.”
If the job you’re seeking is in law enforcement, they will ask for your fingerprints because it’s required by law, said Angela Preston, vice president of compliance at Employee Screen IQ. Screeners and employment law experts both note, however, that the FBI fingerprint database used to check your criminal record is neither complete nor always accurate.
Employers may also check to see that you don’t appear on any terrorist watch lists. While publicly available, some private companies have compiled them in one place, kept them updated and made them searchable, said Lester Rosen, CEO of Employment Screening Resources.
So what happens if a prospective employer finds something bad in your background check?
First, they must send you a letter that says something in your background report is a red flag and they must attach a copy of the report from the third-party screener.
The employer must then give you time to correct the record or explain the issue. How long? The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs the treatment of consumer reports, doesn’t specify but typically the minimum is 5 days, unless an individual state requires longer, according to NAPBS.
In reality, though, that’s probably not enough time to correct any disputed information in your report, said Paul Stephen, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
And the employer may still decide it’s ultimately easier to move on to another candidate.
If it does, it must send you another letter – called an “adverse action” letter – indicating that the decision not to hire you was based on something in your background check, and it must furnish you with contact information for the firm that generated the report.
Want to get an idea of what employers might see about you? Stephen recommends requesting your own Lexis/Nexis Accurint Person Report, which is free.
There are other ways, of course, for an employer to get a beat on you: for instance, scanning social media. But employers are learning they can’t necessarily rely on that information since they can’t verify it.
At one point, companies were actually asking job applicants for their social media passwords, said Christine Cunneen, a board member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. But then some states, such as Arkansas and New Mexico, prohibited the practice and other states have proposed legislation to do so, although it is not prohibited at the federal level.
Employers looking to hire a C-suite candidate, meanwhile, may do a deeper search in court records, social media and news reports to ensure that he or she isn’t embroiled in some nasty divorce, lawsuit or anything else that might attract negative publicity.
The good news in all this: if a company is conducting a background check on you it typically means you are a top contender for the job. Companies typically only screen the candidates that they really want.
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It’s something we’ve said again and again, background checks are a crucial part of a strong recruiting system, and no employee should be joining your team without having passed a stringent, in depth background check. You don’t have to run a background check on every candidate you invite to an interview but you should certainly be checking the backgrounds of your final few potential employees.
Some employers simply don’t dig deep enough when doing background checks and some do none at all; and the reason behind this? Well, it’s often a due to the time and effort involved. But consider the amount of time and money you will lose when having to replace a poorly hired staff member, or even worse, the legal costs and damages a dishonest, rogue employee could cost your company.
Background checks don’t have to be so painstaking and with a proper practice in place you will soon be doing them quickly and efficiently, reaping the rewards and hiring new staff with greater confidence.
To help you do those all important background checks, here’s our guide to the Dos and Don’ts of background checking:
You should be open and clear about your background checking from the start. Not only does this help prevent any potential legal issues, allowing candidates to know exactly what and how you will be looking into their career history, but it also discourages candidates from being dishonest in the first place.
Your background checking policy should be shown to candidates before any checks take place and it should include details on how your checks will be conducted, what you expect of the candidates, and everything that will be included in your investigations.
Make sure all candidates are aware you are running background checks before you do them, and never run a background check on someone without their permission. If you do act on information you discovered during a background check you did without permission you could find yourself facing legal action and a possible law suit.
Make sure a candidate gives you signed permission to run in depth checks and if a candidate refuses to let you run a background check this is itself an obvious warning sign and you should no longer consider them for employment unless they have exceptional circumstances and a very good reason for denying permission.
Many employers are afraid to do in depth background checks due to possible legal issues. You must make sure you are working within the law at all times, but this should not stop you doing the appropriate checks. As we have already suggested; have an open and honest policy which you make clear to your candidates and ask them for permission before you do so, this will help you stay on the right side of the law, but it’s also important to share your findings with the candidate, especially before acting on the information.
Be honest and open with everyone you contact when performing a background check and don’t take any unnecessary risks.
Many employers are quick to dismiss those with criminal records and immediately take a hard-nosed policy towards those with criminal backgrounds.
It’s generally frowned upon to have a ‘no criminal records’ policy and being so harsh actually encourages candidates to be more secretive about their past, even if their criminal record is clean. Instead welcome those with criminal records but encourage them to be open about their history and ask permission to run criminal background checks.
Don’t cut any corners and never assume a candidate is all that they seem. Have a check list of all the background checks needed for your company/the role, and go through them with diligence.
- Check all references and if at least two are not given ask for more.
- Confirm that all the key employment details are correct.
- Confirm all education details and qualifications are correct.
- Perform checks on the candidate’s criminal and driving history.
While you can add social media and online searches to your checking it isn’t as important as many make out. In fact, social media and online checks can often be misleading and a lazy and unreliable way to confirm details.
While social media has become an important recruiting tool much of the information given on such sites are not totally accurate and it can even be illegal to act on such information. Social media platforms are often the source of controversy surrounding their privacy laws and their use of information, and using such sources to investigate a candidate can put you on the wrong side of legal.
Don’t make any assumptions, even if you already know the candidate. Make sure all candidates for the same role go through the same background checks and level of scrutiny.
While different roles and position may require different levels of background checking, when checking those applying for the same role you can put yourself at risk of discrimination charges if you don’t investigate everyone equally.
If and when you do find something negative in background check don’t immediately act on this information without informing the candidate first and allow them to respond.
Sometimes the ing a candidate in person is a quick and easy way to get a feel for someone’s actually character, and you can use scenario questions based on your suspicions to better investigate such issues.information you find in a background check could be inaccurate, or there could be important circumstance and context that are not given along with the info. If you find anything in a check that raises questions about a candidate then invite them to talk about it openly before you make any big decisions.
If you find information in a background check that makes you question a person’s character or emotional intelligence, do a personal assessment on the candidate in order to confirm or dismiss your suspicions.
Background checks are not always easy to take in the correct context and it’s easy to make quick assumptions regarding character and personality without enough information. Assess