How to Share Results of Employee Background Checks

How much communication should you have with applicants once you start screening them? How should you share the results once you complete your employee background checks? This process isn't as simple as writing an email and clocking out for the day. See what you need to know about communicating before and after the screening process.

What's the Best Way to Communicate the Results of an Employee Background Check?

In many businesses, the background check process receives little thought once you've set up a program for screening applicants. So long as you get the results you need and abide by federal and local laws, what else is there to do? This stance towards employee background checks ignores a key element: how your applicant experiences the process and what they feel about it. This step matters, too.

It's too easy for employers to overlook the importance of good communication with applicants throughout the hiring process. Some simply want to find candidates, hire them, and move on — leaving others in the lurch without a clear sense of what's happening. Not only is that unfair to job seekers and a poor reflection on one's business practices, but it might even run afoul of employment law in some jurisdictions.

How should you communicate with applicants about your background screening process to create a better experience? Keep the following in mind.

Be Up Front With Candidates About the Process From the Beginning

Good communication about the verification and criminal background check process is important from an early stage. Job applicants aren't always or even often individuals in a highly stable position simply looking for their next career move. Acquiring a new job could be an absolute necessity for that individual. It is important to provide applicants with an informative process that helps them understand your timeline towards potentially hiring them.

First, remember that you'll always need to provide a standalone disclosure of your intent to use background checks for employment. Next, you'll need to gather your applicant's written consent. During this stage, you can provide some helpful information — just not as a part of your disclosure or consent forms. 

Such information might include how long your vetting process usually takes. Although it can vary from individual to individual, providing a rough estimate of your average turnaround time helps. This gives applicants a sense of the road ahead and keeps you from fielding multiple calls asking for updates.

Additionally, it's a good idea to explain to your applicant what method of communication they can expect from you. Will you call them on the phone, send them a text message, or communicate via email? Explain that applicants will have the chance to review their report as well.

Do not plan to simply avoid contacting applicants that you choose not to hire because of the vetting process. Not only is this a poor social practice, but it is likely to run afoul of the adverse action guidelines found in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Speaking with your applicant about the outcome of the process can be uncomfortable, but it is important.

How to Communicate if a Background Check Comes Back Clear

In the best-case scenario, you don't find anything concerning during the background check process. In this situation, communicating with your applicant is simple, especially since there are no major compliance-related concerns. Instead, you can simply contact your applicant and tell them they've passed the background check. This is usually the stage at which you can begin onboarding by having your applicant complete important tax forms and other information.

Don't jump the gun, though. Ensure you've completed all the different elements of your vetting process, including resume verifications, before giving the all-clear. Going back on your word could cause headaches of its own.

What Should You Do if Verifications Detect an Anomaly?

Separate from the criminal background check, many employers will conduct verification checks to ensure that applicants are truthful about their education and work experience. Should you immediately move on to another applicant if you detect a discrepancy during this stage? A conversation with the individual is worth your time.

Sometimes, simple mistakes happen. Other times, a candidate might misremember dates of employment or their specific title. Clearing up these concerns may only take a simple chat. However, if you're still not satisfied, it might be time to begin the adverse action procedure.

The Adverse Action Procedure: When Communication Matters Most

When verifications or the criminal background check reveal concerning information that changes your mind about an applicant, you must follow the mandatory "adverse action" procedure described in the FCRA. This multi-step process requires attention to detail; otherwise, you could violate the law and face a suit.

Written communications are a must for this part of the process, so many employers choose to use email for simplicity. Others may use a snail mail process, which is less common today. In either case, these documents do not include highly personal or private information. For example, it is wise not to specifically state what in a report has influenced your decision.

After your initial decision, you enter the pre-adverse action stage. At this point, you need to provide the individual with:

  • A document titled "A Statement of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act."
  • A pre-adverse action notice stating that you intend to deny the job.
  • A copy of the background report.

You must then wait for the applicant to respond, dispute any potential inaccuracies, or provide additional context. Check local laws to see if this period has a definition in your area. The EEOC generally holds that five business days is a sufficient waiting period.

If no new information surfaces or your decision remains unchanged, you'll need to issue the final adverse action notice. You must write to the applicant who provided their background check and share that company's contact information. Explain that they can request another copy of their report for free within 90 days.

After this stage, you can cease communicating with the individual and move on to other applicants.

Always Consult With a Lawyer to Understand Local Requirements

With the rise of ban the box and fair chance laws, employers must navigate an increasingly complex and regulated hiring process. Some jurisdictions may mandate specific forms of communication, while others will set time limits about when and how you must take action. Since these elements vary so much nationwide, covering every contingency here is impossible.

Instead, you should consider speaking with an HR professional or a trusted employment lawyer. Review the relevant law at the federal, state, and local levels. Use this review to inform and adapt your hiring pipeline into something that satisfies your legal needs but helps keep applicants engaged along the way.

Communication During Screening is Key — Don't Overlook It

From how your business represents itself to how it complies with state and federal law, how you communicate the results of your screening processes makes a difference. Even when you decline to hire someone, a communications process that isn't cold and impersonal can soften the blow and contribute to your company's reputation. Such efforts ensure you can tick every box on the compliance checklist.

Employee background checks are a valuable tool essential for fostering a safer workplace, but they can be sources of anxiety for applicants. Employers should keep that fact in mind as they develop their procedures. After all, if you hire that individual, they'll remember how you treated them during the process—and they'll make assumptions about how you'll treat them in the future, too. Make that impression a good one.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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