Background checks are becoming more common in the recruiting process. Employers may choose to conduct background checks for several reasons, delving more deeply into the process if the security level of the position requires it. A standard background check for a position may include verifying a candidate’s employment history, school records, and criminal history. But what about professional references, social media channels, and credit reports? Are these acceptable methods for conducting background checks?
The first thing every recruiter and HR professional looking to conduct background checks should become familiar with is the Fair Trade Commission’s Fair Credit Reporting Act, which sets the standard for employment background checks, or “consumer reports” as they’re referred to by the FCRA.
The FCRA stipulates that an employer must obtain written authorization from the candidate, separate from an employment application, before performing a background check. It also states that if the employer uses the results of the background check for an “adverse action,” whether it’s a decision not to offer employment or a promotion, or even terminating an employee, the candidate in question should be told and is eligible to request a copy of his/her background check.
While most of the standards set forth in the FCRA apply to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which are often hired by employers to perform background checks, if you are doing the checking on your own it’s still a good idea to follow their recommendations. Some of them, like notifying the applicants about adverse actions, apply to all employers.
So, if you’re responsible for doing your company’s background checks, what should you cover? The answer depends on the regulations in your state and the requirements for the job. In some states, employers can ask about a candidate’s history, including any arrests, but in many states, including California and New York, they cannot. And in all cases, the job requirements need to be the blueprint for the information you seek. Even if the job doesn’t require a security clearance, you will want to consider performing the following background checks.
Consider establishing a standard, written employment background check policy for your company, as the foundation for every check conducted. It’s also wise to obtain written consent from each candidate before performing any background checks. This way, you’ll have a straightforward approach that covers your legal obligations and leaves you, your hiring managers, and potential candidates all on the same page, so you’ll avoid any potential litigation while protecting the security of your company.
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Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.