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Background Check Basics

It's common knowledge that employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees and volunteers, making it crucial for organizations to conduct background checks as part of their routine hiring and promotion processes. 

Organizations owe it to themselves and everyone they interact with to know everything they can about their employees. A thorough background check is the most effective way to accomplish this. 

Investigating job applicants can reveal false information on a resume, past violent or dishonest behavior, and other potential hiring risks. Background checks can also be used to screen nonemployees, such as volunteers, prospective business partners, board members and coaches. 

Common Checks 

The most common types of background checks include criminal records (federal and county), credit reports, education records and Department of Motor Vehicles (DOT) records. Other screenings include: 

  • Vehicle registration 
  • Property ownership 
  • Social Security number verification 
  • Military records 
  • State licensing records 
  • Court records 
  • Bankruptcy 
  • Drug testing records 
  • Medical records 
  • Workers' compensation claims history 
  • Past employers 
  • Personal references 
  • Character references 
  • Incarceration records 
  • Neighbor interviews 
  • Sex offender lists 
  • Arrest records 

Criminal Record Check

This type of check looks into an applicant's criminal history. Except for sex crimes, there is no single criminal database in the United States that integrates federal, state and local information. Places to check include your county sheriff's department, court clerk's office, Department of Public Safety and State Bureau of Investigation. A growing number of states and municipalities ban questions about criminal convictions on initial employment applications. 

Credit Report Check

These examine the financial history of an individual to determine if there are irregularities in bill payment, rent history or other evidence of poor financial management. This may reflect on the responsibility of the individual, and excessive debt might make the individual more likely to commit theft or other financial crimes.

Department of Motor Vehicles Check

If an employee or volunteer will be driving on behalf of an organization, always perform a motor vehicle check looking for past violations. The National Driver Register is a computerized database of information about drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended, or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations. If you employee CDL drivers, use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Clearinghouse to pull drug and alcohol violations. 

Who Should Be Checked 

Some organizations choose to perform background checks on every employee. This makes hiring procedures consistent and provides an additional resource for managers making hiring decisions. At a minimum, organizations should conduct checks on applicants who: 

  • Work with children, the elderly or disabled 
  • Work with money 
  • Have access to others' financial information 
  • Work inside private homes 
  • Provide transportation for others 
  • Work in security positions 

Background Check Rules

Background checks can be conducted in-house or by a qualified, licensed third-party vendor. Do your research to ensure your screener is reputable and follows all applicable reporting guidelines and legal compliance. 

State and federal regulations govern procedures for background checks. These laws require employers to obtain the applicant's consent before any check is conducted by a third party. This consent form must be separate from all other applications or paperwork. A separate consent form is also required for medical record checks. For investigative consumer reports, which include interviews of friends, associates or neighbors, the consent may be separate from or made a part of the credit check consent form. Rules for credit checks are further defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). When a check results in an adverse action, such as not to hire or promote, the FCRA requires certain disclosures from the employer both before and after the adverse action occurs. 

Rules and regulations for background checks vary by industry and location, be sure to consult your legal counsel before adding background checks into your hiring practices. 

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