Employee Background Checks: 5 Rules to Help You Walk the Line

Aug 31, 2017

There is a lot on the line when it comes to doing background checks on potential or current employees. A bad hire can cost your organization thousands of dollars, or more. It can also lead to lawsuits or loss of proprietary information. But, an improper or illegal employee background check can also lead to litigation, expensive fines, and damages. Here are five rules to help you perform a broad background check that keeps you safely within the law.

Be aware of local rules and ordinances

Almost everyone knows that federal law prohibits you from discriminating in your hiring practices on the basis of race, gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, and sexual orientation. But, many are not aware that their city, county, and state government may also have other laws and regulations that govern how employee background checks can - and cannot be - conducted. This includes rules on things like credit checks and requesting access to social media accounts. Make sure you understand all of the rules that apply before developing a background check policy.

Be consistent

One of the fastest ways to lose a lawsuit about hiring practices and background checks to have a history of inconsistency in following your own policies. Make sure you treat each candidate the same way. Innocent mistakes can easily be misinterpreted as bias or discrimination. Have a written policy that governs when background checks are required and how they are to be conducted—then follow the policy every time.

Look at a broad range of factors

How much could someone tell about you from the worst moment of your life? We all have things we are not proud of. When evaluating a candidate make sure that you look at a broad range of factors. Consider things like:
  • How long ago any negative incidents were
  • Proof of remorse and change
  • Honesty of candidate in disclosing negative factors
You may miss out on great candidates if you are too narrow in your background focus.

Look for patterns - both good and bad

Not every bad hire has a criminal record. When performing a background check look for patterns of behavior. Is there a history of unproven allegations of bullying or dishonesty? Has the employee clashed with a lot of coworkers or supervisors? Are their signs of poor impulse control or decision making ability? Patterns can also work in the candidate's favor. Does the candidate have a solid job history with regular promotions? You want to consider the totality of the circumstances when basing hiring decisions on a background check.

Let the professionals help

One of the easiest ways to get into trouble with background checks is to do everything yourself. You can delegate much of the research for a background check to an outside agency that specializes in pre-hire screenings. However, you will need to be clear with what types of information you are looking for. You should not delegate the final hiring decision to an outside agency. Let them do the research and summarize it for you, but you should still review the findings and make the final decision.
Todd Miller

Written by Todd Miller

Director of Marketing, DHR

Todd leads DHR’s marketing department and is responsible for overall marketing strategy and execution. With nearly 15 years in the sourcing services and solutions space, Todd provides interesting insight on a variety of topics in this fast-paced and ever-changing industry.

Todd lives in Scottsdale with his two daughters and Collie/Shepard. One is a good boy.

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