What is the process of obtaining a background check?

For new and growing businesses, background checks for employment are critical for both safety and quality in the hiring process. Without vetting candidates, you could risk your business or the public—and you might even run afoul of the law. So, how do you get a background check done in the first place?

This article explores the basics of background checking, including what information you can find out and what steps you must take to deny a candidate based on their background. Find out the essential facts as you start to create your own process.

The Process for Obtaining a Background Check for Employment

Background checks for employment are common across virtually every industry. Some are relatively straightforward, while others—such as those used by the government—can be highly complex and time-consuming. Ultimately, all these processes have a simple purpose: revealing important facts to employers as they consider which candidates are worth the investment of hiring. It is just one part of the overall picture used to determine someone's suitability alongside job interviews.

Background checks aren't only about checking to see if someone has a serious criminal record in their past, though. While that is a very important process, good employment screening processes also look at many other elements of a candidate's background. Setting up this process in your business is vital for ensuring you can build a reliable pipeline of quality candidates.

So, what does the process look like in today's increasingly complex regulatory environment? Exploring what goes into a background check and what this process is about will be the ideal starting place. Here's your quick look at background screening and how to begin setting up a functional workflow in your business.

What Goes Into an Employee Background Check in General?

The goal of this process is simple: ensure that you know as much as possible about your candidate so you can make an intelligent choice. With that in mind, there are various tools at your disposal for determining if an applicant is someone you can trust in your business. These tools include:

  • State and county criminal background checks, which are especially useful in metro areas.
  • Sex offender checks.
  • License verifications.
  • Drug testing.
  • Driving record checks, where required by the law.
  • Educational and employment history verification.

Employers often choose screening packages that combine all these efforts into one convenient solution offered by their background check provider. Such a process not only saves money but helps streamline and consolidate vetting efforts, too.

The Typical Steps to Know in the Background Check Process

What do you need to do to execute a background check successfully? Although creating a compliant policy is a multi-step effort, we can condense the workflow into its major steps to provide an overview. Here's what the average employer will do:

  1. Obtain a candidate's information during the initial application process, including data such as name and date of birth.
  2. If the business resides in an area with "fair chance" or "ban the box" laws, abide by them. This may mean conducting an interview or making a conditional job offer before a background check.
  3. Provide candidates with a compliant "standalone disclosure" about your intent to use background checks for employment purposes. 
  4. Get the candidate's written consent.
  5. Order the relevant background check products from your screening provider.
  6. Review the information you've received.
  7. Decide whether to take adverse action or to move forward with a candidate.

How Do Background Checks Source Information About Candidates?

Background checks draw upon various sources to provide a clear snapshot of a candidate's past. These sources can vary from state to state, depending on what the authorities make available. However, you can generally assume that a criminal background check uses information from sources such as:

  • State-level criminal history repositories run by state police or courts
  • County-level criminal court records
  • State and national sex offender registries

There is no official database of every criminal record from every state. If your candidate has lived in other states in the past, you should also strongly consider checking for a criminal record in those states.

How Long Do Background Checks Take?

The time necessary to complete a background check depends on several factors. For example, how many verification checks do you need to include, such as verifying someone's license status? Does the law require a fingerprint-based background check? Depending on state or federal-level backlogs, these elements can add days or even weeks to the process.

Usually, a simple criminal background check without fingerprints can be relatively quick. The US OneSEARCH, for example, provides nearly instant results for immediate consideration and can form the basis of your other searches. The entire process should not take more than a few business days in ideal conditions. Speak with your provider about average turnaround times to better plan your hiring workflows.

What is Adverse Action, and What Does It Mean for Legal Compliance?

"Adverse action" is the legally defined term from the FCRA that refers to any action you take to dismiss a candidate's application because of a background check's result. For example, say that you run a check on a candidate, and you discover that they were previously convicted of murder. Choosing not to hire someone based on such information means you will take an "adverse action."

Under the FCRA, there is a procedure for notifying candidates about your choice due to the possibility of an agency reporting old or outdated information. You must:

  • Issue a "pre-adverse action notice" with a statement of the candidate's rights and a copy of their background check.
  • Wait for some time, typically about five business days, for any response or clarifying information from a candidate.
  • Issue a "final adverse action notice" with a further statement of rights and information about obtaining another copy of their background check for free.

Without following these steps, you cannot deny an applicant based on their background check, or you'll risk a lawsuit.

Can You Make the Screening Process Faster?

Unfortunately, many elements of the background check process are out of the hands of both employers and screening providers. In some cases, such as in states with specific types of mandatory screening for certain job roles, the state level or court system delays can lead to longer turnaround times. However, there are some things you can do to expedite the process of beginning the background check and receiving its results.

First and foremost, the right screening partner makes all the difference. With an experienced and well-connected firm on your side, you can trust in compliant and reliable results—and the understanding that time is of the essence. A good screening provider will have workflows in place to ensure prompt results.

Second, there are some steps you can take as well. These actions center around the need to supply key facts to your screening provider while also obtaining applicant consent. Digitizing and automating these processes will ensure you can integrate with your provider's systems for quickly transmitting the necessary information. Using modern software and automation tools, you can speed up the background check process and receive prompt results even in "ban the box" states where you must delay your initial inquiries.

Building a Screening Workflow That's Best for Your Business

Although plenty of work must go into creating a smart screening process, you can generally rely on your policy for years into the future once you've made the effort. You simply need to monitor for any changes in employment law in your state, such as the adoption or strengthening of "ban the box" regulations. In the meantime, apply your process evenly to every applicant.

Background checks for employment are highly valuable tools. With the right screening provider and a clear understanding of the process's logistics and compliance concerns, you can prepare to create a truly valuable hiring process. Start building your policy today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

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

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