What can employers ask in background checks?

Background checks

Employee background checks are becoming increasingly common, and they are among the most robust tools employers have for vetting potential job candidates in an increasingly geographically disparate workplace. However, these background checks often make employers and employees nervous. Employees may be concerned with the type of information the employer will request, while employers may be concerned with legally conducting the background check.

What Can a Background Check Show?

When conducting a background check, employers are subject to a patchwork of different federal, state, and local laws that protect certain information on behalf of the job candidate. These laws also often mean that the employer has to walk a fine line when trying to determine a candidate’s ability to do their job well. For instance, a criminal background check may include a conviction that could be considered a red flag. Still, if there is a mental disability, the employer must also consider that. Scenarios such as these can muddy the waters between what information an employer can legally use when making an employment decision.

What Can You Legally Ask?

Understanding what information an employer can legally ask in background checks can help the employer and the potential candidate feel more comfortable with the process. It is common for employers to ask for the following items when conducting an employment background check:

  • Education/Certifications/Licensing Records: Many professions, such as healthcare and real estate, require that employees hold specific basic educational qualifications or professional licenses. Asking for this information during a background check is standard. It represents an appropriate request since the employer ensures that the candidate has the right qualifications, experience, and education for the position. In addition, if checking a current license, they may also ensure that the candidate can legally hold the position in that state.
  • Employment Data: Background checks often also include current and previous work history. Employers often want to know that what is listed on your resume is accurate and that you truly have the experience you are claiming. To verify that your submitted information holds up to actual data, background checks will frequently include employing companies, the job title and description, and dates of employment. If the background check is thorough, the company may also ask whether the employee had issues with absenteeism or tardiness, whether they are eligible for rehiring or not, and whether they were terminated.
    • Salary and performance issues are very tricky with background checks. In some locations, it is not legal to request salary information, and for this reason, many previous employers will not share it. Additionally, previous employers approach performance issues with caution because it could result in legal action by the previous employee.
    • Employers may also ask your reason for leaving a company to demonstrate an attempt to understand the history of changing jobs.
  • Criminal Record: Checking a potential employee’s criminal record is only required in certain professions, such as healthcare and those working with vulnerable populations. However, many employers now use criminal background checks to demonstrate that the employee will not pose a threat to the safety of other employees or customers and that they can be trusted with certain activities (such as handling money). Obtaining a criminal background check must be done legally, though. And this process requires that employers get written consent from potential candidates before reviewing any criminal records. There are also additional procedures if the employee is declined for the position due to their criminal background check information. A failure to comply with the appropriate processes could be a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which could cost the employer tremendously. Additionally, some states have limits placed on how far back an employer can look. It’s a good idea to look at your state and local regulations before moving forward with any criminal background check or consenting to one.
  • Credit History: This is another component in many background checks and is usually required for positions that handle money or financial transactions. Similar to background checks, the employer must get written consent from the employee beforehand and follow procedures defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act if the information in this check is used to deny the candidate a position.

Generally speaking, employers must ask the same questions to all candidates, regardless of race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, and age. A failure to do so can result in a discrimination claim. Additionally, employers in specific industries may also request information related to drug use and medical records.

Needless to say, background checks can become complex quickly because there is a fine line between personal protected information and what an employer can legally review when making hiring decisions. To learn more about simplifying your background check process and upholding legal compliance, contact USA Fact today.

USA Fact Global Screening Services provides comprehensive background and criminal checks for employers that comply with federal and local laws. By helping you eliminate high-risk applicants through tailored solutions, USAFact enables you to create a safe and productive work environment and a foundation for future success.