The Essentials of Pre-Employment Screening
Employers need to know they can trust their staff, but that’s not the only reason they perform pre-employment screening. Some organizations, such as municipalities, law enforcement offices, defense contractors and government agencies, may even be legally required to conduct background checks. This doesn’t mean, however, that employers can simply access information with reckless abandon.
State and federal laws protect potential employees and afford them certain privacy rights that companies must respect. Here are some important factors to consider when instituting a background check policy.
Federal Privacy Rules
The landmark FCRA, or Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, doesn’t just apply to lenders who want to check consumers’ credit histories. It also limits the usage of such records by employers.
To stay on the right side of the law as an employer, you need to obtain specific permission to access records and refrain from sharing or using them without explicit authorization. This means you have to let each employment candidate know precisely what you’ll be doing with their information.
The permission you receive from potential hires needs to be documented in writing, and if you decide not to hire them or subsequently terminate them, you should furnish them with a copy of the report you retrieved. You also need to give them an opportunity to make their case if you determine you shouldn’t hire them based on what you discover.
Different states implement unique rules for how employers may conduct background checks. As of 2014, the majority of states hadn’t added any requirements beyond what the FCRA mandates. States like California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Nevada, however, prohibit employers from investigating report information that is more than seven years old at the time of hiring. Some states modify this rule even further by adding exceptions based on salaries.
A total of eight states restrict the background information employers can use to exclude cases that didn’t result in criminal convictions. This restriction may include exceptions for cases that are still ongoing.
A few states and four cities are moving to completely stop employers from asking whether interviewees have had prior criminal convictions. Others have implemented laws that prohibit background checks from turning up old marijuana convictions, certain first-offender crimes and sex-offense registry entries.
Because the law is continually evolving, it’s important to understand how local, regional and national rules might impact the way you conduct pre-employment screening. Overlooking your obligations or overstepping your boundaries might make you legally liable for employment law violations, lawsuits and official sanctions.