The Influence of the Employer Background Check

How much weight should you, as an employer, give to background check results? In what ways can these reports influence your decision? Learn more about the purpose and use of background checks and begin considering how to build a process that appropriately considers the results in a candidate's report.

What Influence Does an Employer Background Check Have on Hiring Decisions?

Determining that someone is a good fit for your business involves many steps. It often starts by meeting someone on paper before you ever seen them in person. Evaluating applications is the first step, along with reading resumes and cover letters. From there, you might start scheduling interviews and assessing candidates in person. For many employers, a background check follows soon after—but what happens once you get the results back?

Understanding what type of influence background checks should have on hiring decisions starts with understanding why you might use them in the first place. Simultaneously, you must also be aware of the regulations that govern and define what kinds of influence background screening may have on your decisions. Let's dive into the subject to explore what employers should know today.

Establishing the purpose and intent of background checks

Government regulations state employers may not use consumer reports such as background checks without a "permissible purpose." In other words, you can't order someone's report "just because." You must clearly need to pull these records and use them during the hiring process. Understanding the influence that screening has on hiring begins at this early stage.

As a best practice, include information about your reasons for background-checking candidates in your written policy. Such a mission statement provides guidelines to follow and demonstrates that you have a good reason to order consumer reports. Since an HR team member or hiring manager will likely handle this part of the process more often than the owner of the business, a policy that's fully spelled out in its intent helps prevent the improper usage of a criminal record check.

A criminal record shouldn't be an automatic disqualification

Imagine you check for a criminal record on a candidate you'd like to hire for a position. However, when the report comes back, they have a few misdemeanor convictions from years ago. Can you decide to deny the candidate a job opportunity just because they have any kind of criminal record? The answer is a strong "no." Government agencies and the courts have repeatedly held that it is discriminatory to deny jobs solely based on a candidate having any kind of criminal record.

Millions of Americans have filtered through the justice system, and many have experienced incarceration. Categorically denying all former criminal offenders on that basis alone unfairly limits opportunities. Therefore, you cannot view background checks as a simple "yes, hire this person" or "no, move on to someone else" indicator. Doing so can disproportionately impact minority groups and other protected classes. Instead, a background check should influence your overall decision-making process based on the details contained within the report.

Exceptions exist. For some positions, such as in law enforcement or childcare, some laws exclude individuals with certain kinds of convictions. By and large, however, background checks should be one influence on your overall decision-making process. They help provide context and a basis for discussions with qualified candidates who may have a past record.

Use the EEOC factors to evaluate results

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission works to ensure fairness in hiring across the United States. As part of these duties, the EEOC assists in the interpretation of laws governing background checks while also enforcing the rules. To help guide best practices, the EEOC encourages companies to review criminal records using three "factors" identified by the courts as essential to preventing unfair hiring. Using these factors helps make background checks a more useful tool.

When a candidate has a criminal record, you should consider:

  • * How serious the nature and scope of the crime was.
  • * The amount of time that's passed since the individual completed a sentence or committed the crime.
  • * Whether the crime relates to the nature of the job in question.

An individual assessment of each candidate's report using these factors gives background checks an appropriate level of influence on hiring.

Not all background checks focus on criminal records

Checking for a criminal record isn't the only part of background screening, and those records aren't the only influence you might have on your decision. Other types of screening seek to verify information an applicant provided to you. For example, you may need to confirm that they have the educational credentials they've claimed, or you may need to know whether a license they hold is still valid. Even contacting past employers to learn about a candidate is a kind of screening.

You should use these tools as an essential part of your hiring process. The results of such screening can have a significant influence on your decision. If you discover that a candidate lied about their job history while conducting employment verification, for example, it's more likely than not that you'll choose to move on to another application. Remember to explore all parts of a candidate's history, not just their criminal record.

Should social media influence your decision?

Social media checks are a challenging area. Many employers prefer not to hire individuals who may bring negative associations or bad publicity to a business. So, should a candidate's social media posts influence your decision? Some states have already ruled that doing so should be illegal. Even in a best-case scenario, the prospect is fraught with difficulties. Chief among those problems is the simple fact that you could easily encounter unrelated information that may raise the risk of a future discrimination lawsuit. More formal, standardized forms of candidate screening remain the best way to influence your decisions.

Best practices for taking adverse action

At the end of the evaluation process, it's ultimately your prerogative to decide who joins your business and who doesn't. However, you must be sure you always follow the relevant rules and laws in doing so. That means doing more than simply ensuring that background checks don't introduce unfair prejudice into your decision-making. When you deny an applicant because of their background check, the Fair Credit Reporting Act defines a specific workflow you must follow.

First, you must issue a pre-adverse action letter. This includes a copy of the candidate's background report you used to decide and explains the individual's rights. Next, you must wait for the candidate to respond. They may have additional information to show you that your information is outdated or lacking important context, such as personal rehabilitative efforts. A period of five business days is the generally accepted best practice, but there are no firm rules on the amount of time you must wait.

Finally, if you don't see anything that would change your mind, you must send a final adverse action notice that explains a candidate's next steps and withdraw any conditional job offer. How much screening influences hiring decisions may vary from company to company, but the adverse action process must be the same everywhere. 

Equip Your Business With Effective Screening Capabilities

For any employer, a background check is a valuable asset. Although screening reports may not often provide the definitive answer on whether to hire someone, they still provide a critical piece of the puzzle. Ensuring your business has the right tools for obtaining and analyzing this information is a vital part of being prepared to navigate today's employment environment. Review your procedures for compliance and thoroughness today and consider whether it's time to upgrade your screening services.

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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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