Employee background screening is a fact of modern life. Whether we like it or not, identity theft, employee mobility and many other modern issues are making it virtually impossible to hire anyone without conducting a thorough background check. However, while these checks are designed to help you weed out potential problems, if they are not done correctly, they can cause a lot of problems of their own. Here are a few things you should remember when you conduct your own checks:
1. Consent Is Critical
In most cases, if you are accessing a candidate’s personal history (whether it’s a criminal record check or a credit report) you will need to get their consent. Even if it’s not strictly required to access the information you need, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution. Get consent for any checks you do, and make sure that it is in writing.
2. Make Sure It’s Relevant
There’s a reason why sexual preferences, religion and marital status are taboo topics when interviewing candidates: they’re not relevant to the job at hand. Make sure that you don’t ask about any personal preferences that aren’t related to the job. Even if it’s a casual conversation, your own beliefs could cloud your judgement, and if the candidate can prove bias, you could be in trouble.
3. Look at the Big Picture
Because we don’t really know candidates personally, it’s easy to focus on one small piece of negative information, to the exclusion of all other facts. However, even if you do find something negative, if it’s small, happened a long time ago and is not really relevant today, it shouldn’t really be a reason to exclude a great candidate.
4. Know the Law
Laws regarding background checks vary by region, and there are federal, state and local laws to take into account. Make sure that your HR department stay on top of all the laws that apply to your area, and if you have more than one location, make sure you tailor policies on a branch by branch basis.
5. Don’t Forget to Discuss
Often, candidates will have a good explanation for less than perfect information on their records. Give them the opportunity to explain issues that you find in their past. In fact, since there are usually laws that require you to provide this information to candidates, it’s a good idea to make it a matter of company policy.
6. Consider Using a Professional
The truth is, employee background screening is not a simple matter. Reference checks, criminal record checks, international checks and educational verification are all part of the process, and all carry their own quirks and requirements. If you don’t have a well-developed HR department, and you are hiring for mid to high level positions, it may be better to hire a professional to take care of the trickier parts of the process. The cost of getting things wrong is often much higher than the fee for getting it right.
The golden rules of employee background screening really are respect and fairness, so whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, make sure that those are your guide.