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How Does Background Screening Work?

The best way an employer can obtain information about an applicant is by securing information using background screenings. Background screening helps employers determine a wide variety of facts. For example, they may be trying to determine if an applicant meets the qualifications of the position. If they have a criminal conviction, poor credit history, traffic violations, or are misrepresenting themselves regarding their education or work history, they may not be a good fit.

Reference checks typically involve the employer contacting the prospective employee’s former employer and educators. During that process, they’re verifying dates, positions held, and salary information. They’re also obtaining information regarding the individual’s character, abilities, skills, and knowledge.


Why Do Background Screenings Occur?

Sometimes candidates embellish the truth or lie on their resumes. They do this in hopes of landing jobs without anyone noticing. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 75% of hiring managers state they’re catching lies on resumes. That’s why background screenings are critical for companies looking to acquire ideal candidates.

Employers can find a wide variety of third-party businesses offering background screening services. The question is, though, what are these companies doing during the screening? What information can they obtain legally? Does the candidate have rights if the company finds information that impacts the hiring decision?


Why are Background Screenings Beneficial?

Background screenings are occurring more often than ever before and for a good reason. Companies not only want to protect themselves, but they also want to find honest and trustworthy candidates. Companies are also using background screenings because they have concerns regarding negligent hiring lawsuits.

Candidates will have access to highly sensitive information when joining a new team. This information could include business transactions, records, and financial data. Therefore, companies benefit from conducting background screenings during the hiring process, as well as follow-up checks throughout their tenure. That way, they can prevent any problems that may arise that could potentially be damaging to their business.


When Should Background Screenings Occur?

Sometimes, companies opt to perform background screenings on every employee they hire. Under other circumstances, hiring decisions occur according to the jobs applicants will fulfill. For example, if an applicant is working any of the following positions, background screenings should occur:

  • Driving: When driving vehicles for others.
  • Security: They are working in security positions.
  • Safety: If they’re working with children, the elderly, or the disabled.
  • Accounting: If they are handling money or financial information, or if they have access to the company’s financial information.
  • Private Sector: They have to work in private homes.


Information Employers Will Find in a Background Screening

Many types of reports are available during background screenings. Under most circumstances, employers start by conducting an employment background check. Typically, the verification process is quite extensive.

An employment background check includes verifying:

  • Credit history: This screening will show current debts, bankruptcies, payment history, and financial judgments.
  • Criminal records: Background screening companies gather information from courts, law enforcement agencies, and correctional agencies to reveal any felonies or misdemeanors.
  • Driving records: If driving is a requirement, employers should look at accidents, convictions, suspensions, and other disciplinary actions this screening reveals.
  • Education history: This screening ensures applicants aren’t stretching the truth regarding their educational background, including earning their degree.
  • Medical history
  • Social Security Trace: This trace reveals where candidates used to live and work. Employers will also learn about former names.
  • Work history: During this screening, the candidate’s previous employment verification occurs regarding their rehire eligibility, the reason for leaving, dates of hire, and salary.

If employers find any red flags during their initial check, they can decide if they need to order more reports to find more specific information. For example, if they’re hiring someone to drive and red flags show up on their driving record, they may want the background screening company to dig deeper to determine if the applicant is up-to-date with fine payments, the dates of infractions and if any of them are criminal offenses.

The type of job the candidate applies for dictates the background screening employers use. For instance, if the individual isn’t going to operate a company vehicle, it isn’t necessary to pull their driving records. However, if they’ll be working with children, employers must run a criminal background check.


Additional Background Screenings

Depending on the position the company is hiring for, there are many other background screenings from which they can choose. Here are some examples:

  • FBI Fingerprint Database: This kind of check includes CHRI (Criminal History Record Information) if the background check company finds a match. A CHRI includes military service records, naturalization, federal employment, and arrests.
  • HSR (Healthcare Sanctions Report): If nurses, PA’s, physicians, and so on, no longer can participate in federally funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare due to an infraction, those results will appear in this screening.
  • Sex Offender Registry: If the applicant is a registered sex offender, this screening will show employers if they show up on any list in the United States.
  • Terrorist Watch List: During this screening, a cross-reference occurs with the list of people who are known or reasonably suspected of conducting or being involved in terrorist activity. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center maintains this list.


How Far Back Do Background Screenings Look?

Records for non-convictions are available for seven years. There’s no limitation on how long reporting can occur according to the Fair Reporting Act. However, many states are passing laws indicating that CRAs (Consumer Reporting Agencies), including the FBI, many not report information beyond seven years. All employers must remain compliant under the FCRA.


Understanding the Laws Regarding Background Screenings

Before an employer can conduct a background screening, they must understand the laws. That way, they know they’re compliant, and no legal issues arise.

An employer can contact an applicant’s previous employer to confirm and verify information on their application or resume, including:

  • Start and end dates
  • Positions held
  • Job duties and responsibilities

Every state has different laws and restrictions regarding what employers can and can’t ask regarding a candidate. Therefore, employers must familiarize themselves with their jurisdiction’s regulations.

During the background screening process, employers must also adhere to the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act). That means that employers must:

  • Disclose that the background check is occurring.
  • Obtain written permission from the candidate to conduct the screening.
  • Comply with the candidate’s request to review findings.


Sources Available During a Background Screening

Typically, employers will conduct background screening independently using social media websites and search engines. However, remember that this information should not take the place of a third-party background screening service. Employers will find accurate results when they use an FCRA-compliant background screening service.

Employers should remember, though, not all records are available online. For example, many courthouses across the United States require individuals to show up in-person to access documents. Therefore, employers must look for background screening companies who use court runners who perform real-time criminal record searches.


Beware of Instant Gratification

The promise of near-instant results is available on a wide variety of background screening service websites. However, just because there are low prices and instant gratification, that doesn’t mean employers are receiving the results they need.

Even though the quick turnaround may be tempting, consider why other companies are charging more and aren’t making the same promise. The discount providers are likely using national databases with gaps in their records. That causes problems when employers are looking for specific details.

Look for providers who dig deeper into verifying the results of the data. That way, they’re hunting for the records that don’t turn up in national databases. Instead, they’re confirming the results from the national database with what they find at local and state courthouses. Are they performing granular searches to find maiden names, aliases, or nicknames?


How to Choose a Provider

If an employer doesn’t already have a relationship with a third-party background screening company, it’s difficult to know who to trust. Small business owners, in particular, may feel like the process is intimidating. Here are some suggestions for how to choose a provider:

  • Compliance: The decision should focus on FCRA compliance before anything else. Otherwise, the company will be at risk.
  • Flexibility: The provider should offer options that go beyond a “one-size-fits-all” approach to background screenings. That way, new hires can experience background screening for different reasons.
  • Quality: Avoid companies offering instant gratification for rock-bottom pricing. Instead, look for those offering high-quality services that are compliant at reasonable prices.
  • Transparency: The provider should be up-front about their costs, and there should be no surprises at the end.


Wrapping Up

Companies perform background screenings for a variety of reasons. Before they occur, though, employers should know how they work. Having this information will help employers understand which background screening is most beneficial to them and why.

Even though they may feel tempted to conduct independent research, they won’t be able to find all the records they need online. That’s why employers must work with an FCRA-compliant third-party background screening company. That way, they can feel confident they’re receiving in-depth data regarding their prospective candidate’s background.