6 Questions to Ask When Building a Background Check Policy

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Many employers struggle with determining if they’re at a stage where they really need to have a formal policy around employment background checks.

The reality is that most employers, regardless of size or industry, should likely have some sort of policy in place.

That’s because, no matter what type of employer you are, background checks should be conducted lawfully, and consistently – and background screening policies go a long way in helping ensure that this happens.

Lawful, consistent background checks are the most important goals of a background screening policy.

It’s vital to have a consistent approach, one that will be both effective at vetting and fair to all candidates involved.

Because a policy sets standards around multiple aspects of background screening – standards that everyone in your organization understands and follows — its formality works to attain that all-important level of consistency.

In the absence of a written policy, it would be easy to inadvertently be inconsistent, which is not only unfair, but could also be legally unwise.

So what are some questions you’ll want to answer as you create and implement a background screening policy?

  • Who will be screened? It’s wise to perform a background check on all potential new employees, from janitorial staff to C-suite officers. But you may also want to consider if there is a reason for you to perform recurring checks on existing employees – some organizations do this for employees on a certain periodic basis as legally permissible.
  • What types of checks will you use? There is a wide spectrum of individual elements of a background check that you may want conducted, such as criminal histories, driving records, and educational and employment verification’s. Which of these areas you choose may depend on such criteria as the needs of your organization, the industry you’re in, any relevant laws or regulations, and relevancy to the job in question (for example, driving information might not be important to you if no one in your organization operates company vehicles or drives rental cars when traveling for the company).
  • How will these checks vary based on job role? While consistency is definitely the goal, it’s not necessarily true that you will want to run the same type of check on everyone in your organization. Different job roles – and their associated responsibilities – likely merit a different combination of background check elements. It may be advisable (and legally permissible) to check the credit history of someone who would have financial responsibilities, like an accounting manager, while it may not be necessary (and may be legally impermissible) for someone like a receptionist who doesn’t have access to your financial systems.
  • When will you request information pertinent to the background check? This may be especially important when it comes to if and when you inquire about criminal history information. Delaying the request of this information allows you to get to know the candidate’s pluses and evaluate them on a level playing field before you’re exposed to a potential red flag that eliminates them from the candidate pool and could be seen as potentially discriminatory. It also helps you comply in the states and municipalities where it employers are not permitted to ask about criminal histories on the initial job application (commonly known as “ban the box” legislation).
  • What criteria might disqualify a candidate? As you make the determination, a few things to consider include the nature and gravity of the offense, the nature of the job, and how long it has been since the crime was committed or the sentence was completed. Here’s where a written policy is really important, because it allows you to individually assess each candidate against a similar test or set of criteria.
  • What are the relevant laws and regulations you need to consider? There are federal, state, and industry-specific laws and regulations that may pertain to your background screening program. That’s why it’s advisable to work with your legal counsel as you navigate drafting your background check policy.

In fact, you should probably engage your legal counsel at the very onset of developing a policy around background checks.

Their advice and guidance will be critical in helping you create a policy that reflects the needs, goals, and responsibilities of your organization.

To learn more about background screening policies and how to get started with them, you should read our latest book Background Checks for Dummies.

Free eBook: Background Checks for Dummies
Background Checks For Dummies [eBook]
Background Checks For Dummies [eBook]

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Kim Nelson

Kim Nelson leads a team of highly creative people that inspire her to find new and engaging ways to help HR professionals stay current on trends in human capital management. In her free time, she loves to travel and follow her palate, searching for the world’s best food and drink.

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