Getting the Low Down: Employee Background Checks

Before you bring on a new staff member, you want to know as much as possible about the candidate. Past experiences, not solely work experiences, have a profound effect on who prospects are and how they will perform their role in your business. An interview or two can give you a good idea of who a candidate is, but many employers want to know a little more. Are there any important details that the applicant might have left out of the interview or their resume? A background check can be a great way to find out and verify that the person you are considering is on the up and up. You don’t necessarily have to eliminate candidates based upon what you find, but you do want to know as much as possible before you offer them a position.

What to Look For

You can use an independent supplier to collect background information on your candidates and supply you with a total picture, or you can look for individual pieces of information on your own. Deciding what you want to know in advance will help you decide whether to look yourself or hire a company to conduct your background checks.

  • Credit scores: Some employers do in fact look up the credit scores of the applicants. This can tell you a little about their ability to handle finances and let you see what they have been up to. If you collect this data, you must have the applicants’ written permission in advance. Also keep in mind that if you use your findings to make a hiring decision, you must share the report with the applicant and explain how it led you to your decision.
  • Criminal background checks: This is the most popular form of background check for employers. You may still hire someone with a criminal record, but for the integrity of your hiring process and the safety of your staff you want to know whether an applicant has been into trouble with the law and to what extent. Criminal history is generally a public record. Here in Arizona, employers and candidates can request both a background check and a fingerprint clearance card (for positions that require considerable security) from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. This includes only crimes committed in Arizona, so be sure to have a national criminal background check performed if you want a full picture.
  • Medical records: You might be tempted to look into these, but be advised that federal regulations state that you can ask only whether a candidate can reasonably perform required job functions and cannot ask for medical records. In general it is best to avoid the potential liability—yes you can be sued by someone you do not hire—that is associated with asking for this type of information.
  • Military or school records: If an applicant says he went to a particular university or has military experience, this might set the applicant apart from the pack. You will want to find out for sure, but know in advance that you will need to request transcripts from the applicants themselves. Let them know why you want the information and consider having them sign a document that states in legal terms how the information will be used and that they consent to your having it. Most often you cannot get much more information than name, rank/major and other general pieces of information from the military or a particular school. If you want information on GPA, commendations, or anything like that you will need your applicant to provide it.

With any and all information you collect via a background check you must consider privacy issues This is sensitive information and if it is leaked, even internally, you as the employer can end up in hot water. Make sure that background check information is limited to “need to know” personnel and never the subject of conversation outside of these circles. Background checks are common parts of the hiring process. They can be time consuming and usually have little to do with your core business functions. If you want to save time and alleviate the trouble associated with background checks or other compliance issues pertinent to hiring, we would be happy to help. Labor Systems Job Center can supply employees on a part time, temporary or direct hire basis and as always you can try out a staff member before making a firm decision.


Arizona Department of Public Safety


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