8 Best Practices for Background Screening

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5 September 2023

8 Best Practices for Background Screening

Hiring and keeping the best people for your business is crucial for any company's success. Anything that increases the odds of knowing job candidates are qualified and being truthful about what they're claiming is helpful in the hiring process. Background screening can be an integral tool, and a useful way to discover issues that might not otherwise be discovered.

Uses of Background Checks

Employers can use background checks to achieve a few purposes. One study showed:

  • 74% want to improve the quality of new hires.
  • 56% seek to correct compliance gaps.
  • 49% try to enhance the company’s reputation.
  • 43% want to upgrade safety and security.
  • 37% hope to increase employee retention.

Why Background Checks are Needed

Although most employers want to find the best candidates to boost productivity, there are other reasons to use background screening. The type of position the subject is being considered for, such as a safety sensitive position, is also a factor in some instances. Consider these statistics:

  • 53% of all resumes have inaccuracies.
  • 30% of small business failures can be attributed to employee theft.
  • Every year, almost one million employees become victims of crime while at work, including aggravated assault, robbery and rape.
  • Replacing a poor hiring choice can cost 1-5 times that employee’s salary.
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Tracking Background Screening with Benchmarks

Benchmarks (also called gold standards or best practices) are an excellent way to evaluate how your company is doing compared to others. Here are eight background screening benchmarks, based on recent trends:

  1. Implement a solid background check policy that applies to all applicants and all staff. Include temporary or seasonal workers, contractors, and volunteers. Generally, the level — and expense — of the screening can be adjusted by how much risk is related to the position. For example, employees who work with children or who are involved with the company’s finances require more research than a clerical position. Whatever your policy, it must be consistent for all applicants and employees to avoid discrimination.
  2. Ban the Box” legislation is being adopted by many states to eliminate companies from asking about criminal records on job applications. Traditionally, applications have contained a check box with the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?” Each state or local jurisdiction has its own restrictions and guidelines, including when the background screening can be conducted, so legal advice is recommended. If the background screen does reveal a criminal history, do not automatically dismiss the applicant. Rather, determine if the applicant’s history is pertinent to the position. Also look at the age of any arrests or convictions; a non-violent offense more than twenty years old — without similar repeats — may not always relevant.
  3. The job application should include a way to list all employment, education, certifications, and any other position-related requirements (biographical data). The job application should include a statement that allows an applicant to acknowledge any consequences of providing false information. A separate document is used to obtain proof of notification of background screening and authorization to proceed.
  4. Choose a reputable company to do the background checks. Check for accreditation by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) and review the Better Business Bureau reports. The company will be knowledgeable about how to conduct screenings, less than common legal items that might be uncovered in a check (such as stricken off leave rulings) as well as how to help reduce liability regarding discrimination.
  5. Do not conduct a background check before the first interview, for two reasons. First, the delay prevents finding out any information that could sway the application or hiring process, opening the door for discrimination charges. Some companies even wait until after extending a conditional job offer. Second, waiting means fewer people to check, saving money and reducing cost per hire numbers.
  6. Follow all guidelines from the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding how background checks may be used to make hiring decisions. FCRA requirements extend beyond obtaining credit reports. If the background check leads to a decision not to hire, the applicant must be given a copy of the report, the name and address of the company that provided the report, and a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” The EEOC has declared elimination of discrimination during hiring a top priority. It also recognizes that minorities may have a higher rate of criminal convictions, resulting in barriers to work. Employers should always weigh the type and gravity of any offenses against the possible risks of the potential job position.
  7. Do not include social media, such as Facebook, in the background screening. Although it may be tempting to find out more about a candidate, the information often includes topics that are not allowed to be discussed during the hiring process. Marital status, sexual orientation, race, religion, or political opinions are easily discovered on social media, and could influence a hiring decision. Some companies do include social media as part of the pre-hiring process, and the FCRA does not prohibit it, but the practice is controversial and probably best avoided as private life and work life are not always relevant to each other.
  8. When disposing of any documents related to background checks, ensure that the reports are destroyed in a secure manner. If they are paper, shredding or burning are appropriate. If reports are electronic, use software that prevents any reading or reconstruction.

Employment Law and Background Checks

Employment law is constantly changing. Even if your company has had a long-time practice of including background screening as part of its hiring process, current trends may trigger the need to ensure that policies and procedures reduce corporate liability. Seek legal assistance to make sure there are no violations of state law, federal law, or Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.