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Background Check Considerations


When a small business hires an employee, a robust pre-employment screening process already should have taken place. Knowing how to perform the screening could make the difference between a productive and problematic employee.

The federal government lays out guidelines for how far an employer can go when checking on the background of a prospective worker. The Small Business Administration summarizes the do's and don'ts and hints at the pitfalls of an overzealous process.

However, you do not have unlimited rights to investigate an applicant's background and personal life. Employees have a right to privacy in certain areas. If this right is violated, they can take legal action against you. Therefore, it is important to know what is permitted when following up on a potential employee's background and work history.

Regarding credit reports, employees must obtain a written consent before seeking an employee's credit rating. If you turn down an employee because of the report, you must inform the applicant and allow them to challenge the report, under provisions of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Employers can only ask about medical conditions that relate to the duties of the job under consideration. As long as an employee can do the job with reasonable accommodations, an employer cannot discriminate against that applicant.

Bankruptcies are a matter of public record and can be searched, but the Federal Bankruptcy Act prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants who have filed for bankruptcy.

Workers' compensation records are also public and information contained within can be used to determine if an injury might affect his ability to perform certain job duties.

Military and school records are both confidential and cannot be obtained except in limited circumstances.

Criminal records can be considered, but care should be given to screening methodologies and ultimate hiring decisions. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has laid out elaborate guidelines regarding criminal histories and their relationship to hiring decisions. Under those guidelines, the EEOC advises to:

  • Eliminate policies or practices that exclude people from employment based on any criminal record.
  • Train managers, hiring officials, and decision makers about Title VII and its prohibition on employment discrimination.

SurePayroll offers a full array of pre-employment screening services, including background checks, drug screening, behavioral assessments, skill testing and personal development inventories. The pre-employment screening services are available online as you need them — no contracts or lengthy commitments are required.