Return to the glossary

Background Check

Definition: A background check is a review of a potential employee’s criminal, commercial, and sometimes financial records.

They provide valuable insight into an individual’s history and integrity, reducing the potential risks associated with hiring. It’s more than a security measure—it’s a critical step to ensure that the candidate is truthful in their application and is well-suited for the role. A thorough background check can help companies build a reliable workforce, foster a safe working environment, and safeguard the organization’s reputation.

Types of background checks

There are various types of background checks that can provide different insights about a potential hire. The type of check you conduct will largely depend on the job role and requirements.

Here are the most common types of background checks:

  1. Criminal History Check: Investigates an applicant’s criminal history to uncover any past criminal activities, such as misdemeanors, felonies, or ongoing criminal proceedings. The extent to which this information can be used in hiring decisions varies by jurisdiction, but generally, employers should consider the nature of the crime, how long ago it occurred, and its relevance to the job.
  2. Employment Verification: An essential part of the hiring process is confirming an applicant’s employment history. This check verifies details like job titles, responsibilities, dates of employment, reasons for leaving previous jobs, and performance during their tenure. It helps to confirm that the candidate has the experience they claim to have.
  3. Education Verification: This type of check validates the degrees, diplomas, certificates, or other educational credentials claimed by the candidate. It usually involves contacting educational institutions directly or using a verification service.
  4. Credit Check: A credit check reviews a candidate’s credit history, including outstanding debts, bankruptcies, and overall credit score. This is often used when hiring for positions that involve financial responsibilities or access to sensitive financial information to assess the candidate’s financial responsibility.
  5. Driving Record Check: For jobs that involve driving, a driving record check can reveal a candidate’s driving history, including any traffic violations, suspensions, or revoked licenses. This is crucial for roles such as delivery drivers, truck drivers, or any role involving the use of a company vehicle.
  6. Drug Testing: Depending on the nature of the job and local laws, employers may require drug testing as part of the pre-employment screening process. This helps ensure workplace safety and productivity, particularly in roles where impairment could lead to significant safety risks.
  7. Reference Checks: Reference checks involve contacting a candidate’s provided references, typically past employers or colleagues, to gain insights about the candidate’s work ethic, reliability, skills, strengths, and weaknesses.
  8. Social Media Check: Some employers also look at candidates’ online presence for additional insights into their character and personal life. However, this must be done carefully to avoid breaching privacy rights or making decisions based on protected characteristics like race, religion, or marital status.

It’s crucial to remember that all background checks must be conducted consistently with federal, state, and local laws.

For example, in the U.S., the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers to get the applicant’s written consent before conducting a background check.

Privacy and anti-discrimination laws also apply, so it’s important to ensure the checks are carried out fairly, consistently, and respectfully.

FAQ

Are there legal restrictions on conducting background checks?

Yes, there are laws regulating the use of background checks in hiring, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in the U.S. Employers must obtain written consent from the candidate before conducting a background check, and they must comply with privacy and anti-discrimination laws.

What should I do if a background check reveals a criminal record?

Employers should assess the relevance of the crime to the job requirements, consider the time elapsed since the crime, and give the candidate an opportunity to explain. Decisions should not be discriminatory and should comply with local and federal laws, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines in the U.S.

Do all employers conduct background checks?

Not all employers conduct background checks, and the extent of the checks may vary based on the job role and its responsibilities. For example, roles involving handling sensitive information, financial responsibilities, or working with vulnerable populations are more likely to require comprehensive background checks.

How long does a background check take?

The duration of a background check can vary depending on the type of check conducted and the services used. Typically, it can take a few days to a couple of weeks.

Can a candidate be rejected based on the results of a background check?

Yes, candidates can be rejected based on background check results, but only for legitimate, job-related reasons, and employers must comply with laws such as the FCRA and EEOC guidelines. For instance, they must provide pre-adverse action and adverse action notices if they plan to reject a candidate based on the check’s results.