Running Background Checks on Potential Employees

Running background checks on potential employees is an important part of the hiring process. A new hire should not be a liability, so taking every precaution to ensure you choose a trustworthy person who demonstrates good judgment and character is a wise business move, especially if you offer employee child care services. While you are justified in your desire to know more about an applicant, potential employees have a right to privacy. Additionally, information has become readily available due to the Internet, so you must be careful about choosing your sources.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that regulated how employers can go about obtaining background checks. There are some records that require the applicant's consent before you can consider them. Applicants can also make a case that certain records are not relevant to the capacity for which they have applied. Before performing any background check, be sure you are in compliance with state and federal privacy laws.

Types of Records and Restrictions

Though a background check agency may be able to get access to all sorts of records, you may not have the right to view all of those documents. Know your rights and restrictions and those of the applicant before proceeding. Terrorism threats and ethics violations in recent years have made employers more diligent in their hiring practices, leading to an explosion in the number of background-checking firms. Start by investigating the quality of any firm you use to be sure you stay within your rights.

With the consent of the applicant, employers can gain access to a wide range of reports. The key is to be sure that the reports you summon are relevant to to job you are hiring for. Checking the driving record of a pizza delivery person is reasonable, but the same check would be overkill for a bank teller. The records potentially available to employers include credit reports, drug tests, driving records, Social Security numbers, court records, character references, property ownership records, state licensing records, past employment records and sex offender status.

Besides keeping your search relevant to the job description, a few caveats should be noted. When following up on character, personal and professional references, the questions asked must be business-related. You may not ask a reference anything you are barred from asking the applicant, such as questions about health. Also, if you choose to take credit scores into consideration, you must provide the applicant with a copy of the report and an opportunity to dispute it.

Some records cannot be used to make hiring decisions, and the regulations vary by state. Criminal records are only accessible if it pertains directly to the job, as with law enforcement and childcare professionals, for instance. Criminal records are the greatest source of legal liability for employers, so consult a lawyer before summoning these records. Other records that may be restricted include bankruptcies, history of worker's compensation, medical records, military records and educational records. Some of these, like medical and educational records, are protected by federal agencies and can only be accessed with consent and a demonstration of reasonable need.

Even with the applicant's consent to all records, a background check may not be complete. There are federal regulations on the time limits for some reports. Bankruptcies cannot be reported after 10 years, and most other financial records are held after seven years. The Fair Credit Reporting Act does not place a time limit on criminal records, but some states impose their own restrictions. Generally, time limits do not apply for jobs with a salary of $75,000 or more.

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