Thursday, December 2, 2010

A few thoughts on background checks

The New York Times’s You’re the Boss blog ran a piece yesterday discussing background checks of prospective employees. It focuses on a case study of one company that recently decided to run a background check on every new employee after accepting a conditional job offer. I thought I’d share a few thoughts I took away from the article.

  1. It is not practical or cost-effective to run a background check on every applicant you are considering hiring. Because of information that could be revealed and the risk of a taint of discrimination, it is also not advisable to use a background check as part of the selection process. The best practice is to use background checks like medical exams and drug screens—as a final vetting after a conditional job offer is made. In a perfect world, no employee should be allowed to start working until after the background screen clears, although the needs of a particular business to have an employee start immediately may win out.

  2. The need to screen employees will vary from company to company based on the nature of the business. Not every company will have to screen every employee. If you are not going to screen every employee, though, you should at least screen all employees in the same job. Consistency will eliminate any perception that you are selectively screening candidates based on a protected class.

  3. Businesses should be very careful with the use of publically available information on the Internet (e.g., Google and Facebook) to conduct informal background searches. For one thing, the information is difficult to verify and may not be truthful. Also, an Internet search could reveal protected information—such as an employee’s membership in a cancer survivors’ group—that you, as an employer, do not and should not want to know. Internet searches of job candidates, however, do have value, but should only be used as one part of a background screening protocol, and with measures in place to limit the discovery of protected information.

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