2016 01 05 background-checkChecking the background of prospective employees is a must even for small businesses. If not, you might spend your vacation time on the phone, dealing with employee problems. That’s exactly what happened to a local business owner. The cause of the problem: a white collar employee with a history of substance abuse. When the substance abuse turned into jail time, the employer’s vacation turned into a tough week of dealing with problems in the office while trying to spend time with family.

How can employers avoid being caught in this situation? The answer: background checks.

Background checks are an established practice for large employers. Others are catching on to the reality that checking the background of prospective employees is a wise investment of time and money before bringing new staff on board.

There are many types of background checks performed. Some are mandatory; others are left to the employer’s discretion. Most businesses will want to perform the following:

Verification of eligibility to work in the US – This is a federal requirement applicable to all employers regardless of size.

Criminal check – The simplest form of background check is through the VA state police. Because it can take up to 2 weeks to get the results, many employers use third party providers. Although these private services are more expensive than the state police, they can provide criminal and credit checks with a nationwide reach.

The use of criminal history when recruiting employees may violate the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII if it disproportionately excludes minority candidates from hire. While the EEOC Guidance does not make it illegal for employers to conduct or use the results of criminal background checks during the hiring process, an across-the-board hiring ban on all individuals with conviction or arrest records is unlawful.

Watch-out for home care and nursing home employers: State and federal laws prohibit home care agencies and retirement communities from employing individuals who were convicted of barrier crimes such as abuse, neglect, or mistreatment. Considering the facts that many direct care workers are minorities and minorities have a larger share of felonies, handling criminal background checks can be tricky. The guiding principle should be to only seek criminal background information 1) relevant to the position and 2) compliant with your state requirements.

Reference check – Most employers are reluctant to provide information about their former employees. However, this is worth doing if only to confirm the veracity of the information included on the application form. Reference checks usually yield the dates of employment and job title. In some cases, former employers are willing to provide “off the record” comments on the performance or reliability of their former employee. Jus ask the question “would you rehire this person?” and listen for the pause. Bear in mind that employer and employee may have parted ways in less than good terms. This might taint the commentary!

These three basic pre-employment enquiries should be done systematically, regardless of how long or how well employers know the prospective employees.

Other types of background checks can be performed depending on the industry and the position to be filled. The key is that it is justified for the position, not a blanket requirement for all new hires. In other words, checking the credit history of applicants for a Receptionist position is probably not justifiable. However, it is probably wise to do so for the those handling funds for your organization.

Credit check – This is particularly relevant for employees who handle funds or make financial decisions on behalf of their employer.

Drug testing – In industries heavily regulated by the federal government (transportation, nuclear energy, military contracting), pre-employment drug testing is mandatory. This is a complex area prone to litigation. Employers considering drug testing of prospective and current employees should seek counsel before proceeding.

If your business doesn’t run background checks before hiring, it is time you get your Employee Background Check Toolkit. Just think about the time and heartache you will avoid if you do this before employees ever come on board.