A background check on potential employees sounds like a great investment. And in many cases, it is. But what are you really looking for, and what kind of action can you take based on the results? Many employers want to acquire this information, but few know what to do with it and what their employees’ legal rights are in relation to it. Here are four truths about background checks that you need to know before you make a costly mistake.

  1. You must treat all applicants equally. Before establishing a background checking procedure, you need to understand that your company would be legally liable if candidates felt they were being treated unfairly in the process. To avoid this risk, it is imperative that you design a program that provides the exact same check for all candidates regardless of the position for which they are applying.
  2. An Internet search is not a valid alternative. Google and social media have changed the way we find information and interact with each other online. Many hiring managers have fallen into a habit of reaching for the low-hanging fruit and making a hiring decision based on an Internet or social media search. For instance, a Google search may lead you to an arrest record. However, an arrest and a conviction are two different things, and the candidate may have legal recourse, depending on your actions based on what you’ve found.
  3. You must inform the candidate of the results. When you run a credit check, the information is protected under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and you are required to provide a copy of the report. In the case of a background check, a company cannot perform one without the signed, written consent of the candidate. If a company decides not to hire a candidate based on the background check, it must let him or her know and share the information of the background checking company utilized.
  4. There is no centralized information available. The biggest problem with background checks is inconsistency. There is no national, centralized bank of this kind of information, so the background check companies that advertise “complete” results aren’t exactly correct. Each state has different laws about what is reported and to whom, which can complicate the process and not provide enough data to make a decision.

Do you use background checking as a factor for hiring decisions?