How Can I Check a Potential Employee's Criminal Record?

Before hiring a potential employee, an application screening process and a background check might be necessary. Employees working with children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups should be thoroughly vetted, and a criminal background check might be required by state law. The same is true of new hires who will be driving a company vehicle, carrying a weapon, entering people's homes and performing other tasks that could land you with a liability suit if the person becomes violent or commits a crime. Running background checks can free you from negligent hiring claims and ensure your employees' and customers' safety.

Before proceeding with a background check, you must be familiar with federal and state laws regarding illegal hiring practices. Some forms of background checks cannot be used as grounds for hiring, and criminal records is the stickiest category. Investigating a potential hire's criminal record without cause and obtaining reports from an unofficial source like online "detective agencies" can be a violation of state law. Consult an attorney before requesting information about criminal records to be sure you are within your rights.

Sources of Background Checks

In the information age, there are many companies whose sole purpose is background screening. These can be private investigators, online employment screeners or data brokers. Much of the information they sell to clients is public record, all they do is track it down and compile it in a neat package. But there are unscrupulous companies out there with access to information that could get you into legal trouble. Do plenty of research to be sure you are associating with a reputable company.

Smaller businesses may do their own background checks. Information like convictions, incarcerations and sex offender status can be found in the state or county where an applicant has resided. In many states, arrests that have not ended in conviction cannot be used for hiring purposes or even accessed as public record. Third party investigators and data compilers cannot verify the accuracy of their records, so turning to the state for this information benefits all parties involved. You can be sure you are making a hire based on accurate information and avoid the legal ramifications of illegal hiring practices.

The FBI also provides criminal background checks, but you can only request your own records. In the spirit of transparency, some businesses ask applicants to provide their own background checks from the FBI or state agency. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, applicants must consent to having a background check. This can be a mandatory term for employment, but keep in mind that you cannot legally perform criminal records checks without the person's consent.

Hiring Based on the Results

Employers may think that an applicant with nothing to hide should be willing to submit to a background check. But these checks are not foolproof and without error, and information therein can be taken out of context. If your findings from the criminal background check lead you to not hire the applicant, you are required by law to inform him or her of your reasoning and provide a copy of the report. The applicant then has the opportunity to dispute the contents of the report.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the report must be compiled by an outside consumer reporting agency. These are often nonprofits or professional organizations that can verify and assemble the information obtained from state agencies. You are not required to hire any applicant, even if they satisfactorily dispute the findings in the report, but you must give them the opportunity to correct that information.

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