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A Quick Refresher on Background Checks


What you don’t know about an applicant can put your organization at risk. Resumes, interviews, and applications are simply not sufficiently reliable when onboarding new employees. Background checks are the extra fortification your hiring process needs to reduce hiring risks across the board. Here’s why:

Your Obligations to Your Employees and Your Customers

As an employer, you have a legal obligation, a “duty of care,” to protect your staff, your customers, and your reputation from foreseeable acts. Failing to conduct pre-employment background checks is increasingly seen as a failure to exercise this “duty of care.” As a result, employers who opt out of background screenings find themselves liable for crimes committed by their employees while on the job, especially when the employee has a previous criminal record. 

Your Obligations to Potential Employees

Your obligation to protect your business must be weighed against your obligation to protect the privacy and other rights of potential employees. You don’t have unlimited rights to probe into an individual’s background in the interest of protecting your organization from negligent hiring suits. It’s important to understand what you can and can’t do when conducting pre-employment background screenings. 

Be Familiar With the FCRA

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs the process of obtaining and using personal information for background screening. The FCRA gives you the right to conduct a background check and to use the information in the report to make hiring decisions when you have a clearly defined business purpose of doing so. 

To that end, all information compiled during the course of a background screening is subject to the laws set forth in the FCRA. In addition, talk to your legal team about state and local laws that might also impact your process. If you are screening overseas, you can also conduct background checks; international checks require you to comply with international laws, which can be very different from those in the U.S., so again consult with your legal team and your screening partner. The following are general guidelines for compliance:

  • Create a clear written background policy for your organization
  • Follow FCRA laws
  • Comply with state, local, and federal regulations as well
  • Develop job-specific screening protocols
  • Establish criteria for consistently evaluating information
  • Define what constitutes disqualifying information

The First Line of Defense

What types of background checks should your organization run? The answer depends on your organization. Not all positions will require the same level of personal scrutiny, but your duty of care requires careful consideration of this matter. Your process doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Keep the focus on the safety of your organization and on compliance. 

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