Background checks have gone from a luxury to a necessity in modern commerce, mostly because they’re now possible. In the pre-Internet era, background checks would have involved a manual search for documents at each of the record archives’ locations. Most people could hide from their past simply by moving to a new city. But with the new age of information, background checks can be done in a matter of minutes, and include all 50 states for a criminal records scan, plus credit check, driving records, and more.
If you are an employer, the background check process is standardized in order to comply with rights and responsibilities. First, you notify the candidate that you will be performing a background screening and have them fill in some prerequisite identity information. After conducting the check, you’re required to provide the candidate with a copy of the report you received, and you are to go over the results with them before finalizing your decision.
How long it takes to do a background check depends on the scope of information you gather. But we’re still talking about a matter of same-day results for most employers. For positions requiring an additional security clearance, an in-depth investigation might take up to a week, because requests for high-level screening information are formalized with government bureaus.
Laws and restrictions
There are a host of federal policies controlling what you, as an employer, can and can’t do when conducting a background check for hiring purposes. Most employers understand anti-discrimination laws, but there’s much more to the federal regulations besides that. You must conduct checks indiscriminately in the first place. You are forbidden from inquiring into medical history. You must obtain the candidate’s written permission to perform the check.
Then if you are also including a credit check, you have to comply with the rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) on top of this.
In considering the results, you aren’t allowed to just base your decision on any random criterion. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) forbids you from turning down a candidate based on negative background information that would be more common in people of certain races, national origins, genders, and so on if that criterion was also “not job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
For example, say the candidate had an assault charge twenty years ago, but has maintained a consistent clean record since then and is applying for a maintenance position where they won’t have public contact. That charge could be for something like a scuffle with a stranger in the street, an easy situation to stumble into during anyone’s youth. Choosing not to hire this person based just upon the assault charge is not consistent with the EEOC policy.
There’s a whole section of these EEOC policy statements, and the rules do get complex at some points. For instance, there are special rules governing gender discrimination in the sports industry. On the other hand, if a candidate has a harassment complaint record and you choose to overlook it, you could be held liable for hiring them. For large-scale employment, it’s best to get some legal council or appoint professionally trained H.R. staff to do these hiring decisions.
Conduct enough background checks, and you’ll come away with the impression that everyone has a skeleton in the closet. The fact is, life is a complicated business, and it’s too easy for any of us, no matter how law-abiding, to simply make a dumb mistake in early adulthood. It can happen to anybody.
But getting the background check itself is easy and convenient. If you’re needing a steady supply of background investigations, it’s well worth the minor monthly fee to retain such a service. The challenge is all in knowing what to do with that information once it’s in your hands.