When conducting background checks, don't break the law yourself

When conducting background checks, don't break the law yourselfBackground checks are becoming a staple of our industry. In December, SI Review reported that 60% of the companies that responded to their survey always conduct criminal background checks. (Another 38% conduct them sometimes.)

These checks are a great selling point for clients: they indicate that you provide high-quality candidates, that you value the safety of your clients’ current workers and that you also value your clients’ businesses in terms of risk and legal liability.

They’re also great for reducing your own risk and legal liability. Thorough background searches can reveal inaccuracies and falsehoods on candidate applications and protect you from the nightmare of providing a candidate with a criminal background who then victimizes your client’s business.

However, background checks can be a legal liability unto themselves. Because you’re dealing with someone’s private information, there are many laws in place to ensure this investigative power isn’t abused. To make sure you’re conducting legal background checks, follow these guidelines:

  • Have a written policy about background checks in place, and make sure it’s followed consistently for all candidates in the same job categories.
  • Include information about background checks on your applications, including the types of checks that might be made. Let applicants know the consequences of providing false or misleading info in their applications.
  • Conduct a check only after a job offer has been made, and be clear that the offer is contingent on the results of the check.
  • Give applicants the opportunity to explain any negative or damaging information revealed by the check.
  • Maintain the confidentiality of all information obtained through background checks.

One big issue in employment screening these days is the use of information gleaned from social networking sites in employment screening. A 2009 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 45% of all surveyed employers use social networking sites to screen potential employees.

As with so many other aspects of social media, though, “social screening” is a potential minefield of liability. The information on social networks can be very personal, and at a minimum usually includes an applicant’s gender, race, marital status, age and other potential sources of discrimination claims. Social network information can also include comments from third parties that can’t be verified and can be defamatory.

If you’re going to include social screening as part of your background check procedures, be sure to include that information in the background-check section of your application packet. And as with other aspects of background checking, be sure to have a written policy in place that’s followed consistently.

How have your experiences with background checks been? How about social screening? Let us know in the comments!

Opt In Image
Get the Guide to COATS Staffing Software
Everything You Handle Is Right Here

Just what is COATS Staffing Software and how can it help your business?

Get this free guide that explains how our integrated system makes staffing and payroll easy!

Ready to see COATS in Action?

Schedule a demo