How to Perform Employee Background Checks
Every business, large and small, must make a decision whether or not they want to conduct background checks on job applicants, keeping in mind that a background check can prevent problems later. Once the decision is made to perform background checks on applicants, the employer must decide whether or not he/she wants to conduct the background check or have it completed by a professional. Having it completed by a professional can be expensive, especially if there are numerous applicants and the first ones fail the background check.
Background checks are not always black or white. There may be some concrete information in the applicants past that disqualifies them from the job. Many other times it will be information obtained that the employer must try to confirm in some way, such as a negative comment from a person. At times people harbor a grudge for some prior grievance and now see the way to get back at the applicant. When performing the background check an employer needs to keep this in mind and not only ask about any issues with the applicant, but also any issues between the applicant and the person you are interviewing.
Performing a background check may change the way an employer has handled filling vacancies in the past. Many times a business owner takes the application from the applicant, scans the document quickly, talks to the applicant for a few minutes and makes the determination right then, or they set the application aside for a few days to see who else may apply, without looking at the application after that first initial glance. A thorough review of the application is an employer’s first shot at avoiding problem employees or in the extreme, employees that are going to steal from the business or cause problems with customers.
If an employer chooses to do their own background checks the process must start with a complete and thorough job application. In addition to complete identifying information such as full name (and any other names used), date of birth, social security number, etc, the application must ask for the applicants last ten years of employment and addresses of all residence lived in during that time as well as any arrests or convictions at any time.
Again, don’t skim over the application in front of the applicant, it is too easy to miss errors or inconsistencies if the applicant is standing there watching you. Tell the applicant you need to review their application as well as the others received and you will contact them for an interview if needed.
Review the application thoroughly; at this point you are looking for gaps or inconsistencies in the application. For instance an applicant shows he was employed until June 2005 for one company and then indicates a hire date of May of 2006 for his next employment. The time from June 2005 to May 2006 needs to be accounted for. It is possible the applicant was searching but just couldn’t find a job. It is also possible the subject had been arrested and was incarcerated. While being incarcerated, by itself, is not necessarily a reason for denial of a job, you will want to talk to the applicant about the issue, including why the applicant left the information off the application.
The next steps involve contacting prior employers and landlords. This can be a bit tricky as they may be concerned about being sued by the applicant if they reveal negative information. You need to assure them that you will not tell the applicant who you received any information from and what information you received. The applicant doesn’t need to have this information.
Check with prior employers, not just the last one or the one he is currently working for. If he is still working there and the company wants to get rid of him, they may give a good reference hoping you will take him off of their hands. Go back to prior employers and talk to them about the applicant. Specifically ask about any problems or concerns they may have had with the employee. Find out about the applicants temperament when dealing with problem customers, or fellow employees. Why did the applicant leave that business, did he leave on his own or was he fired.
If the applicant shows he has been renting places to live contact the owner or manager to see if there were any problems with the applicant, or if the applicant was evicted. Again don’t just go to the last one, go back a few more to see if they had any issues.
Remember though, when talking to any prior employers or landlords you need to listen carefully to what is being said. Prior employers or landlords could harbor bad feelings against the applicant and therefore give you derogatory information. Never base the decision to hire or not just on what a prior employer or landlord says without being able to back up that information in some way.
The application should have an area that asks the applicant about arrests and convictions and where these occurred. Most, but not all, counties now have their court records on line and allow anyone to go online and search by name for anyone arrested and charged with a crime. Most systems will also state what the outcome of the case was. Check with every county the subject has lived in and ideally the counties surrounding the county the applicant lived in. This can become very time consuming but it is an important part of the background check.
An alternative to this is to find a business on line that will perform background checks through the court systems for you. These businesses have the advantage of being able to look at many counties and states for information on the applicant. This can be done online and the service can be paid for one employee at a time or a monthly fee can be paid that allows unlimited checks. No matter how an employer chooses to do this search, he or she must remember to run not only the name the applicant is going by now, but any other names the applicant may have used at one time or another in the past. Read the information obtained thoroughly, you may find information the applicant left out, such as arrests and convictions or you may find other names the applicant used or other employers the applicant left off the application.
At this point the employer may have found information that leads them to disqualify the applicant. In that case there is no reason to proceed. Set the application aside and proceed to the next applicant. If the applicant looks good at this point continue with the background check.
Call the college the applicant states he or she received their degree from to confirm the applicant did go to school there and did receive a degree. This is important for businesses that require a degree for employment. There have been numerous cases lately where applicants lied about having a degree and the lie wasn’t discovered until a problem occurred with the employee.
If the applicant states they were in the military ask him or her what type of discharge they received, honorable or dishonorable and ask them to provide their discharge papers.
The next step, provided the employer has not found information in the background check that disqualifies the applicant, is to call in the applicant and interview them. In addition to the questions that must be asked to determine the applicants knowledge and fitness for the job applied for, try to clear up any inconsistencies you have found to this point.
An arrest and conviction or prior problems may not necessarily disqualify the applicant. This is where the employer uses their judgment in the hiring process. You may see something in the applicant that makes you want to give the applicant the job anyway. There is nothing wrong with this, but to protect yourself you must watch the applicant more closely than other employees.
If you find problems that lead you to decide the applicant is not someone you want working for your business just set the application aside. If the applicant calls to find out what is going on all you want to tell them is either they didn’t meet your needs for the position, or you found someone you felt was more qualified for the position. The applicant doesn’t need to know anything else.
NEVER tell a rejected applicant why you disqualified them, just tell them you found someone else for the position, and NEVER tell the applicant about any information you obtained through prior employers or landlords. This can lead to unnecessary litigation against the employer and the prior employer or landlord from which the employer obtained information.