Can You Hire Someone Without a Clear Construction Background Check?

For those working in construction, is a background check a necessary step? If you use one and discover a candidate with prior criminal convictions, can you still hire that person to work on a construction site? Explore why builders and contractors should consider using background checks and consider how this industry can offer a second chance to some.

Construction is one of the essential industries nationwide—building new things is always needed. Demand In large markets, the desire for new residential housing or commercial space can keep builders engaged with large projects year-round. Demand can fluctuate, but someone somewhere will need help from construction companies, whether large or small. Aim to equip yourself with enough workers to hit project milestones; what role should a construction background check play in your hiring?

In other words, is it possible (legally or at all) to hire construction workers if they have a criminal conviction in their past? The answer is yes—and it's very prevalent.

Hiring someone with a record can be risky, but it can also provide a valuable second chance and much-needed labor. However, there are some considerations to make along the way because of the nuances involved in this situation—including whether to even look for records in the first place. 

Not every construction company uses background checks. The building industry has a broad reputation for being laxer about these checks than other sectors. There are reasons for that, which we'll explore below—but first, let's see why using them is important before considering how you might react to the results.

5 Reasons to Use Background Checks in Construction

Adding extra steps to the hiring process might seem unnecessary in construction, where an employer's primary concern is that an applicant has the skills and work ethic to succeed on the job site. However, many good reasons exist to consider using a construction background report to vet candidates. Here's why:

  • It's vital for safety on the job site. Background checks can't predict that someone will be a safe worker, but you can identify red flags that might make you think twice.
  • It can help protect other workers. Combined with additional information about temperament, you might decide an individual isn't a suitable fit for your work environment.
  • They provide peace of mind about heavy and expensive equipment operators. Identifying DUI charges, for example, could be vital to you.
  • You might need to satisfy DOT regulations for some employees. You must follow Department of Transportation rules, including a background check for employees regularly operating specific commercial vehicles.
  • There could be regulations or laws in some areas (or federally) that stipulate you must conduct background checks to be a part of a publicly-funded program. Compliance with client directives to vet staff are a common reason for builders to use background checks.

Why Do Builders Sometimes Skip Background Checks? Are They Still Important?

Despite the many reasons for using background checks, there are also reasons why some builders choose to ignore them. Understanding these scenarios is necessary, too. Ultimately, it's an employer's prerogative—but forgoing checks can lead to increased risks. Builders might skip this step for these reasons:

  • Labor shortage. Especially common in areas with an ongoing construction boom, employers may not want to be choosy with their hires.
  • The employer does not have any requirement to do so. In the absence of a directive, some companies may always opt for the minimum.
  • The employer makes it a policy to hire those with records. Some builders who own and operate companies or work as contractors may have records themselves and thus aim to provide a job for others like themselves.

Let's assume you run a background check on your applicants before breaking ground on another project. Will you be prevented from hiring someone if they have a record?

What if You Find a Criminal Record During a Background Check?

If a criminal background check for contractors or builders returns a positive result for records in an individual's file, are you barred from hiring that person? Apart from a specific contractual reason, the answer is a strong "no." For example, OSHA regulations for construction sites don't strictly concern most of your hiring practices regarding criminal records—more how you oversee the way work occurs on-site. 

If you find a record, consider the guidelines the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published for evaluating background checks. This includes seeing each applicant as an individual, considering the circumstances surrounding the crime. How long ago it occurred and assessing its relevancy to the job is also vital. Using these guidelines is a simple way to guide your final decision on whether the record should disqualify a candidate.

Taking Adverse Action

Not every candidate's background check may prove agreeable to you. Some very serious charges, such as murder or rape, might give you pause about employing an individual. If you determine a relevant conviction that is too serious for you to ignore, you must follow the adverse action guidelines in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In some states, such as California, additional local laws may enhance these FCRA guidelines. In general, you must:

  • Provide a pre-adverse action notice and a copy of the background check.
  • Allow candidates time to respond with additional information or corrections.
  • Consider any new information provided.
  • Issue a final adverse action notice with a statement of the candidate's rights and notification that the individual is entitled to another free background check.

These steps ensure you do not risk legal action for unfair or unlawful hiring practices.

Should You Use Tools Besides the Criminal Background Check?

Background checks are only part of the story for safe hiring in construction. They can provide helpful information, but you should consider supplementing them with other tools. For example, a drug test can be an important resource, especially for individuals you plan to use for heavy equipment operations. Be mindful of jurisdictions where drug testing for marijuana has become illegal, such as New York or New Jersey. Use a process to fairly test and evaluate applicant results for a safe, sober job site.

License verification can be crucial, too. You shouldn't take their word for it if you hire skilled workers who claim specific certifications or licensing in particular job areas. Verify the information using a professional service to contact the licensing agency to confirm that your applicant is in current good standing.

Building a Process That Makes Sense for Your Business

Every employer has different priorities and preferences for hiring. By and large, builders do not face many requirements to conduct extensive screening of their candidates except in narrow circumstances. Besides satisfying DOT requirements or meeting regulatory demands for contracting on a government job, you have wide latitude in deciding how to screen employees and what to do with those results.

Running a construction background check doesn't mean tying your hands into denying someone a job just because you uncover a record. Instead, you gain valuable information to help you make a more fully-informed choice. You can still choose to hire those with records while understanding and managing any risks that arise. Learn more today about how easy it is to set up a background screening policy to help create a team of builders you can trust with even the biggest jobs.

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