A Publication of WTVP

Perhaps the most important step you can take to ensure the safety of your workplace—and limit your liability—is to conduct background checks of all new hires. However, checking backgrounds is not always an easy process.

In general, federal and state laws seek to balance the interests of employers with the privacy rights of applicants. Background checks must be conducted and used in ways that are relevant to the individual’s job; protect the individual’s privacy; and avoid discriminating against a group or class of applicants. The following tips highlight legal considerations for three of the most popular background checks.

Criminal Checks
It may be important to conduct a criminal background check for certain jobs, for example: security personnel; employees working without supervision or handling money; and persons who work with vulnerable groups such as children, the ill or elderly.

When deciding to check criminal records, keep in mind that an arrest is not the same as a conviction. You can take convictions into consideration when deciding whether you want a candidate working for you. However, since certain minority or protected groups are more likely to have been arrested or convicted, a blanket policy against hiring individuals with convictions could be problematic. Look at the circumstances surrounding the crime, the time that has elapsed, what the person has been doing since, and how all of these elements factor in to the particular job for which you are hiring.

Credit Checks
Check financial information only when there is a strong business reason, such as jobs that involve large amounts of cash or substantial access to financial operations. Certain state laws, such as in Illinois, prohibit the use of credit checks by employers except in limited situations. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers to take specific steps when obtaining credit information. If you reject an applicant on the basis of a credit report, you must give the applicant a copy of the report and a chance to dispute the information. The FCRA rules can be found at: reports what-employers-need-know.

Driving Record Checks
For jobs that involve driving a motor vehicle for business purposes, check for driving violations, accidents and license status. The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, however, prohibits access to personal information such as home address or medical information without written and signed consent from the applicant.

Sources that can provide background check information to employers include the applicant; federal, state and local government agencies; educational institutions; and consumer credit agencies. iBi