A Guide to Verifying Employment and Criminal Records Checks

Recruitment professionals are vital for growing businesses, specialized companies, and staffing agencies. Recruiters do more than craft and post online job listings. They may set up job fair booths or explore LinkedIn for potential candidates for contact, for example. Recruiters do many things to find individuals with the right skills and experience to support a company’s goals. Along the way, it is vital that you understand the importance of verifying employment and criminal records.

The hiring process relies heavily on what applicants self-report through applications, cover letters, and resumes. Unfortunately, you cannot always rely on people to be truthful. In other cases, someone’s behavior in the recent past might raise troubling red flags. Recruitment is about avoiding the wrong candidates as much as finding the right ones.

Determining suitability requires more than just an interview. To establish the appropriate confidence level, you must vet every individual you recruit. Otherwise, you could pass along job candidates who aren’t qualified or might even pose a risk to the business. Taking steps such as verifying the truth of an individual’s employment history is an integral part of this process. So, too, is a criminal record check.

In this paper, we’ll examine the fundamental role of pre-employment screening and verification. We’ll explore why you shouldn’t take an individual’s employment history at face value—even if it’s on LinkedIn. Along the way, we’ll also consider the role of criminal background checks and how to use both tools. Understanding how to protect your business or clients from bad hires is essential for recruiters. Here’s what to know.

Who are you recruiting? The role of vetting today

Why make the effort to put candidates through a rigorous screening process? This is an important question because screening takes time. As the cliche goes, “time is money,” and in the business world, that’s true. If the law doesn’t require you to screen recruits, why spend the extra money and time it takes? The answer is simple: skipping this step now might mean more time, money, and headaches later.

There are many scenarios to consider. Imagine a recruit who falsifies their employment history. They state they have experience in high-level job roles or a specialized field, maybe from some prominent firms in the industry. You hire that individual based on those facts. In reality, the individual lied on their resume—they never had those positions, or they misrepresented the truth. The individual can’t perform at the level you expected. Ultimately, the business has to fire that person. Now, the position is open again, potentially leaving a critical team shorthanded.

Similar concerns exist if you fail to conduct a thorough criminal background check. Not all records are barriers to employment, nor should they be. However, some records indicate a level of risk that is too great for many businesses. Someone with a recent conviction for assault with a deadly weapon might not be the best candidate for a customer service role. An individual with a history of DUIs isn’t suitable to be a chauffeur. If you hire someone with red flags in their history and they re-offend or cause harm on the job, you could be on the hook for negligent hiring.

Recruiters, like any kind of employer, must make a thorough effort to understand candidates.

Can I use a Social Security number to verify job claims?

Unfortunately, no. Recruiters can’t simply take an individual’s Social Security number and plug it into a system of old jobs. Some credit reporting agencies offer such services, but they aren’t complete. There is no reliable central repository of all job information. Services that claim to provide such records must rely on businesses that report information to them. Since most companies don’t participate in such programs, you must rely on other methods. You should always seek accurate information to make employment decisions.

How do you verify someone’s claimed employment history, then?

You can use multiple methods to develop confidence in an individual’s reported employment history. The most common is to contact the person’s previous company directly. You may even require applicants to include a phone number for their prior employers on an application. Using this information, you can call the business and ask to speak to a manager or a human resources official. Stating that you are an employer evaluating a job candidate, you can ask to confirm important facts, such as:

  • Whether someone ever worked for the company
  • What date that person was hired
  • What date did that person leave the company
  • What the person’s job title was
  • What the person’s job description or official duties included
  • Whether the person is eligible for rehiring

These questions give you a robust, all-around view of someone’s employment history. You may also use references supplied on the resume to confirm employment. Ask references if they know the candidate’s employment history and ask to confirm or deny certain positions.

Exploring a candidate’s educational history by contacting their alma mater is a good idea, too. You could uncover inconsistencies in their education that point to bigger problems. Don’t leave these stones unturned; important information could be hiding beneath them.

Why should you check an applicant’s criminal record?

Recall that someone’s criminal history could directly relate to the job role in question. It is essential to avoid creating opportunities for someone to commit another crime. Likewise, you may need to evaluate someone’s past behavior as a risk factor for future actions. For example, someone with a history of theft may raise a red flag in your recruitment process. An individual known for stealing might not be the best fit for a job that requires handling daily cash deposits.

Lawsuits against companies engaged in negligent hiring can be expensive and high profile. You could face judgments in the millions of dollars if you recruit an individual, knowing they carry serious risk factors. Being thorough in your criminal history evaluation is essential. Otherwise, you can hurt your business—or those to whom you send recruits you should have vetted.

Know your legal limitations

Verifying employment and conducting background checks are vital. However, you don’t have free rein to do as you like with these processes. They are subject to various laws at every level, from the federal government to local counties. To use these tools effectively, you must know your legal obligations. Failing to meet them can invite lawsuits, regulatory action, fines, and other problems. As a recruiter, you must comply with these laws even if you’re only selecting candidates for a client business.

Always speak to an employment lawyer to assess the validity of your processes. In general, you should expect to comply with the following requirements:

  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA requires notices of intent to use background checks, candidate consent, and other disclosure requirements.
  • Ban the box or “fair chance” laws that may dictate when and how you may ask about employment history or criminal records.
  • Salary ban laws. Some states make asking candidates or prior employers about someone’s salary history illegal.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines. Always use EEOC guidance to understand FCRA obligations and other requirements.

Beyond legal considerations, there are some ethical concerns about verifying a candidate’s past, too. Treat all applicants fairly and equally. Protect their information from disclosure. Do not let unauthorized individuals view background check results.

A step-by-step guide to conducting an employment verification

So you have a list of candidates and are ready to decide who to pass on to the next stage. What do you need to do to conduct an employment verification? The process may vary somewhat from business to business. In general, however, you can follow a step-by-step process similar to the following.

  1. Obtain a candidate’s consent using an FCRA-compliant procedure. You only need to obtain consent once for the entire background check process. Ensure you time this process appropriately in light of local ban the box laws.
  2. Decide which employers listed on a candidate’s resume or application to contact. Most employers require candidates to provide their three most recent jobs. You may choose to ask for further historical information.
  3. Obtain the contact phone numbers for these businesses, where possible. Some companies may be defunct. Use Google to verify that such companies did exist at one point.
  4. Call the company. Contact human resources or someone who can assist you with employment verification.
  5. Share the name of the applicant and ask for more information. Remember what you’re most likely to discover. Don’t ask subjective questions. Stick to facts such as job titles and dates of employment.
  6. Record your information for decision-making later.

Instead of making these calls yourself, you may also use a consumer reporting agency such as backgroundchecks.com. Authorized to contact employers on your behalf, we can speed up the process by making these calls for you. When you have a large volume of candidates to screen, such services can be invaluable in maintaining agility in your workflows.

Interpreting employment verification results

In the best-case scenario, interpreting employment check results is easy. In this case, all the employers you contact confirm the facts you have. The candidate was completely truthful on their resume. That’s a good sign that you can move on to the next stage of consideration—or that it’s time to make an offer.

However, if you discover a discrepancy, you have a red flag to evaluate. How severe was the anomaly? Did a candidate forget their dates of employment, or did they entirely make up a position? Use your own best judgment and common sense at this stage. Some discrepancies warrant another conversation with the individual. They may have simply made a mistake. In more serious cases, you may need to disqualify the individual as a candidate for misrepresenting their experience.

A basic overview of criminal background check procedures

Criminal background check procedures vary from business to business. The reason is simple: there are many sources for criminal records. You may choose to check a third-party multi-jurisdictional database. You might opt to check for records held by state police or county courts. Each of these can involve different procedures. Access rules may vary from state to state, too. Here’s a sample of what a criminal vetting process might look like:

  1. Obtain an applicant’s consent in an FCRA-compliant manner if you have not yet done so.
  2. Ensure you have the appropriate information for vetting. Such information includes the applicant’s full name and date of birth. Locations of prior residences may also be helpful.
  3. Choose a vetting product such as the US OneSEARCH, which searches hundreds of millions of records compiled nationwide. You will receive a report on your candidate for review within minutes.
  4. Order other necessary vetting reports, including state or county repository searches.
  5. Begin evaluating the results.
  6. If the results change your mind about a candidate, follow the FCRA’s “adverse action” workflow.

To find out more about adverse action and other types of local background checks, explore our online Learning Center.

Interpreting criminal background check results

To interpret background check results, refer to the EEOC’s guidance on the subject. Use the so-called “Green factors” for evaluating each record. The EEOC encourages employers and recruiters to assess a person’s criminal record individually. You should also know when or if the law demands you disqualify candidates with certain convictions.

In general, a criminal record does not make someone automatically unsuitable for work. “Ban the box” laws aim to let employers see the facts about someone’s experience before their criminal record. When you see a record, try to place it in the job context. Do the two relate? Would you be providing an opportunity to commit a similar crime? If the answer is no, a record has less relevance to your decision.

Consider other factors, too, such as how long ago the conviction occurred. Has the individual engaged in any rehabilitative efforts? These steps can also indicate when someone is trustworthy enough to hire despite their record.

No matter how you approach this step, apply your judgment equally to all applicants. Fairness requires consistency. Anything less could expose you to claims of discrimination.

Common mistakes and errors to avoid

Accuracy and reliability are critical in the vetting process. Otherwise, you could miss important information—or violate the law by mistake. As you prepare to improve your recruitment processes, review some of the most common errors to avoid.

  • Follow FCRA guidelines to the letter. Don’t include the standalone disclosure form with any unrelated paperwork. Always get the candidate’s consent.
  • Provide appropriate notice of adverse action and wait the right amount of time to handle disputes.
  • Promptly bring disputes to the attention of your background check provider.
  • Don’t ask employers about subjective information when verifying employment.
  • Avoid asking about salary information in states that restrict that data.
  • Don’t skip contacting any employers; if you verify one, verify all of them. Don’t miss important information by cutting corners.
  • Don’t forget to ask employers if the individual is eligible for rehire—this can reveal if someone lost their job by termination.

What’s the simplest way to avoid these pitfalls? Work with a proven team such as backgroundchecks.com. With compliance workflows built into our procedures, we help inform your business while satisfying your legal obligations. Professional help such as this means you don’t need to worry about struggling to recruit at scale.

Build Better Recruitment Processes Starting Today

Vetting processes are vital steps in the hiring process today. As a recruiter, you are responsible for passing qualified, reliable candidates to your employer or agency. You must understand the tools at your disposal and how to use them effectively. Confirm what a candidate claims about their prior employers. Verify that you are not making an unnecessarily risky or potentially negligent hire.

At backgroundchecks.com, we can support your needs regarding verifying employment and criminal records. Rely on an experienced screening agency that understands the complexities of compliance and your needs. We can help you streamline your recruitment pipeline with reporting products that support tight time requirements. Consider how you approach this vital effort today—and start exploring how easy it is to vet candidates.


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