Employee Background Checks: Yes or No?

As any business owner will tell you, employees are investments.

Similarly to a landlord’s tenants, your employees have the ability to represent your company, whether fairly or otherwise. For this reason, you may want to consider running a background check on potential new hires. If you’re unfamiliar with background checks, here is a straightforward look at the dos and don’ts of the process.

The Case for Employee Background Checks

The statistics regarding small businesses’ hiring of criminals aren’t particularly shocking—you run about a four percent risk of hiring someone with a criminal record if you have 50 or fewer employees on staff—but the consequences have the potential to be harmful, especially if you find yourself amidst a negligent hiring lawsuit. If for no other reason than to avoid one of these, you should consider running a basic background check on all candidates.

Some careers and industries are more prone to background checks than others, including education, healthcare, finance, and government workers. There are also laws that require background checks for positions if the candidate will be working with children, the elderly, and/or the disabled.

Background Check Basics

First and foremost, encourage a dialogue regarding your potential hire’s history in general, with emphasis in their future occupation area. For example, if they are interviewing for a commercial driver position, consider bringing up their accident or citation history—questions such as these merit answers only at their discretion, of course.

To save yourself time and a potential discrimination lawsuit, you should only begin your background check after explicitly offering your applicant the job in question. Once they know you’re comfortable with the idea of employing them at face value, they should consent to a credit check and criminal screening. Once again, if something troublesome emerges during the screening process, your first option should be discussion.

What You Can Do

When it comes to the actual background check itself, consider a few things:

  • You need written consent to access any personal information about your applicant in the context of a background check; this consent must be on a separate, dedicated document
  • Going through a professional agency will ensure a clean, consolidated takeaway
  • Driving records, criminal history, credit reports, and employment history are all fair game; aspects such as health records and disability records are not
  • Your applicant is privy to everything you see; to avoid lawsuits, provide them with a copy of the same report afforded to you
  • The more information you provide the applicant with up front, the less you will have to justify later—and the less likely you will be to suffer a discrimination claim

As long as you are fair, consistent, and thorough with your screening process, you and your candidate should be in the clear.

Though this doesn’t pertain to legality, you should also keep an eye out for any personality flaws that may contradict your workplace ethos. Your potential employee may have stellar work ethic and a flawless credit score, but if they don’t play well with others in a co-working setting, you’ll likely end up wasting more time and resources trying to get them to integrate than you will gain from their presence. If your new hire does work out, make sure you follow the basics in new employee onboarding to have them properly welcomed and integrated to your business.

What You Can’t Do

Depending on your state or local laws, the first rule of thumb is to follow any Ban the Box legislation. Barring extremely rare circumstances, you absolutely cannot administer a polygraph test or any equivalent thereof during the employee screening process. This isn’t a bad thing; unless you’re overly worried about security clearances or a similar issue, such tests are superfluous—and demonstrably inaccurate. Stick to conventional screening methods such as credit reports and traditional background checks.

The employee screening process can be a touchy subject. For any questions regarding background checks or to find out about conducting an employee background check, call Abacus Payroll at (856) 667-6225 today.

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